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The Wunderkammer

A Digital Alchemy Lab

Alchemical Musings

So, we’ve been asked to write about our interpretation of the term “digital alchemy.”  My first experience with the word “alchemy” probably came in a sophomore science class in highschool.  I don’t remember much except that it was a medieval precursor to science that involved trying to turn lead to gold, which seemed totally plausible back then considering they thought flies generated spontaneously from rotting meat.  I think the idea of alchemy continued for a while, at least into the Renaissance when actual science starting popping up.  Don’t quote me on that, though.

Anyway, continuing with my vocabulary narrative.  My next encounter with the word “alchemy” came only a few months later when the brilliant anime “Fullmetal Alchemist” began to air Saturday nights on Cartoon Network.  It is from this anime that most of my ideas about alchemy come, including equivalent exchange, transmutation circles, homunculi, and chimeras.  The anime follows two brothers whose lives are changed forever when they try to bring their mother back from the dead by transmuting all the chemical compounds in a human body, not taking into account the need for a soul.  It leaves one of them without a body (their soul gets attached to an empty suit of armor), and the other loses an arm and a leg trying to save his brother.  They get embroiled in all sorts of adventures that always tend to invoke some kind of philosophical thought in viewers; it was like catnip for my teenage self.

My more modern interpretation of alchemy involves the idea of genre and media blending.  I’m a huge fan of “chimera genres” like magical realism (which combines literary fiction with fantasy), and most of my creative work takes place within that realm.  My favorite authors include Gabriel García Márquez and Karen Russell, both of whom are huge inspirations of mine for a number of reasons.  Last semester I took Dr. Zamora’s Intro to E-Lit class, and that showed me just how fertile the ground for media blending is in the digital age.  Getting back on point, I think digital alchemy is a way to blend literary and technological elements that otherwise would not come together in order to tell new stories in new ways.  Yeah, sorry you had to sit through a load of rambling just to get to that one main point…

As for the title of my blog, it also comes from the Renaissance era, when noblemen would collect curiosities in a “wonder room,” or “wunderkammer” in German-speaking regions.  Wunderkammern are a fascination for me, and I even call my personal collection of antiques, taxidermy, fossils, insects, and travel mementos by that name.  I figured that a perfect place to conduct digital alchemy would be a digital wunderkammer, hence my blog’s title!

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Letter to my Alchemist/Course Reflection

Dear Tycho,

It was a pleasure to host you during your visit to New Jersey.  I couldn’t have asked for a more interesting person to share my home and academic life with, as much as you may refuse to believe it.  I’m not sure how bad the racism was back in Arganee, but for someone like me, the opportunity to make friends with a Chimera alchemist has been a dream-come-true.  I’d also like to thank you for your kindness and understanding toward me.  This semester was a difficult one, especially around the time you arrived, but you never became impatient with me, or with this strange world.  You’d just smile, flutter those little wings of yours, and make cups of tea for us both.  That takes a special kind of person, Tycho, and it was an inspiration to me.  I’d even venture to say that during the course of this semester you’ve taught me to become more patient with myself.  Like your “clumsy poetic” (as Prof. Levine called them) words, perfect things are not always perfect in the ways we expect them to be.

You weren’t with me for the first half of this semester, but that was the time when things were going very well.  I participated in two webinars during that time, for one of which I developed questions to guide the next day’s class discussion.  These were about electronic literature and netprov.  I did a blog a week, and I did 2 Daily Digital Alchemies a week, sometimes more.  I also submitted two ideas for Daily Digital Alchemies, one of which involved finding faces in inanimate objects, and the other of which asked participants to make up a new word.  Sometimes my blogs were responses to specific prompts we had been assigned, but sometimes (with the permission of Dr. Zamora) I did my own thing.  It was actually those blogs, where I took advantage of the freedom I had been granted, that were the most meaningful to me.  Unsure if I was doing something “wrong,” I wrote about original species communities on the online art/social network site DeviantArt.  Thanks to the overwhelmingly positive responses of Dr. Zamora and Prof. Levine, I was able to realize that these virtual communities really were a valid and unique subject of research.  After this realization, I decided that I would make original species communities the topic of my Master’s thesis.  If I had never written those blog posts, I think I would still be floundering and grasping for a thesis topic I felt was “perfect,” or in other words “scholarly enough.”

It was around the middle of the semester that things started to go downhill.  First, I learned that the two core pillars of my academic support system, Dr. Zamora and Dr. Inskeep, would both be leaving for sabbatical and a new job respectively.  I became very anxious and depressed about the coming year.  Shortly after this, I was hospitalized for an instance of acute colitis.  I spent two-and-a-half days in the hospital receiving antibiotics, fluids, and painkillers.  After I was released from the hospital, I was required to stay out of school for another week to rest and work myself from a clear fluid diet back to solid foods.  During this time, I was feeling pretty awful and I did no schoolwork at all.  It was around the time that I returned to school that you arrived, Tycho.  You taught me to drink tea since I could no longer have coffee.

Communicating with the world of Arganee was like a new beginning.  Teaching you to blog, tweet, and participate in the “Cooking with Anger” netprov rejuvenated me.  I loved watching you take to Twitter to communicate and share your thoughts with other alchemists and the #netnarr community, even though you had a bad habit of forgetting to use the #arganee hashtag.  I think ultimately less than half of your tweets had the hashtag, but all of them were interesting and beautiful in their own way.  You shared a lot of gifs, and even made a meme.  I let you take over in the Twitter department instead of doing Daily Digital Alchemies, as I’m pretty sure I was supposed to for that leg of the course… Except for that one fiasco we had when you left yourself logged in and I accidentally tweeted from your account.  We laughed about it in the end, but man was I steamed at the time!  It’s a shame we never could figure out the audio software for you to share samples of the Chimera language.

My “rebirth” was stunted when I fell ill again, and you even participated less in tweeting and blogging as you took care of me.  You didn’t need to do that, but you told me, “Twitter-hunger will not be world-death-make! You need health-make, not stress-make!”  How powerful that was, considering Arganee needed that kind of participation to help achieve balance again!  You put importance on my health, and I realized I had to do that as well.

Well, Tycho, we made it to the end of the semester, even if there were some instances when our participation slowed to a trickle.  Because of those instances, I think I deserve a B by the grading contract’s standards, but I’m hoping my professors will take mercy on me and grant me a B+ or A-.  Most of the times that I missed assignments or was absent were for valid illness, for which I was able to provide documentation.  I think there was one blog that I missed just because I was sad over Drs. Zamora and Inskeep’s departures.

Anyway, thank you so much for coming into my life, Tycho.  You are a kind, patient, creative young Chimera, and a wonderful alchemist.  I’m glad I was able to help Arganee heal itself, and I’m even happier I got the chance to meet you.  It was a privilege and a delight to see how your mind works, and to hear the way you expressed yourself.  I’m grateful for your invitation to visit Arganee, and I hope to take you up on it someday.  For now, though, I think I’d like you to come back to New Jersey.  I have an idea for a project, and I think your voice would be perfect for it…

On Building A Better World

The other night I had a nightmare that I accidentally hit a young man with my car on the way to school.  I accompanied his family to the ER waiting room, where the young man was declared dead.  The dream was disturbingly vivid, and the characters were fleshed out to upsetting proportions.  When I told my stepmother about this dream, she said it indicated that I felt out of control about something in my life.

I’ll admit, I have been having a rough time lately.  I have a lot on my mental plate, and I do feel very out of control.  I guess the stress is finally beginning to take its toll on me.  But I’m not here to complain about my neurasthenic nonsense (well, maybe a little); I’m here to talk about moving forward amid a world in which we do not always have the control we desire.  The recent election made it clear to many of us just how powerless one can feel when the world seems to be rushing by without them, or when the world is going in a direction one feels is all wrong.  Some people have it in them to be activists, to get out there and rally on the streets for what they feel is right; others of us are… I’m trying to think of a better word than “cowards” to describe the group in which I’m included…  We’re not cowards, but I guess we’re nonconfrontational?  For this group, we find it’s easier to build little worlds of our own, worlds where we can try to make things better than what reality has presented us.

Dr. Zamora has spoken to me about the power of online communities to suggest ways to shape the world into a better place.  After some thought and observation, I saw the ways that the original species communities I wrote about a few weeks ago do just that.

Most closed species communities discourage greed with the terms of service they establish and the ways in which they sell pre-made designs.  This is notable because, as I mentioned in my other blog post, some of these species are their creators’ livelihoods, or their way of paying for school.  Unlike purveyors of other products, or even other artwork business models, the owners/creators/moderators of closed species tend to have a vested interest in their buyers using their “products” exclusively for creative and social purposes, and not as investments.  This can be seen in the almost universal closed species ToS rule that character designs may not be sold for more than what was paid for them.  This rule prevents someone from buying a design of a popular species, then jacking up the price based on demand, and reselling it for an exorbitant amount.  By establishing this kind of rule, closed species creators seem to be advocating a kind of “purified consumerism,” in which buyers only buy something they are going to use and appreciate for what it is, not for its perceived value.  This flies in the face of the greedy, materialistic culture in which we seem to live.

Additionally, closed species creators seem to shun the traditional business-world perceptions of supply and demand.  Some closed species creators only sell new pre-made designs when they genuinely need the money, and thus pre-made designs of their species become rare and sought-after.  This is different from the kind of rarity-by-design models that manufacturers of collectibles employ, as the scarcity of the resource (pre-made character designs in this case) is a result of a waste-not-want-not philosophy, not the desire to intentionally make something rarer and thus seemingly more valuable.  To add to this, when creators see demand for new designs is high enough that it is causing unrest in the community or attracting scammers, they do what they can to meet the demand.  Sometimes this is done by getting guest designers or community moderators to create designs, for which the designers themselves receive payment instead of the creator.  Again, this is unique for the selling/use of intellectual property, and a very anti-greed (what some might call counterproductive or foolish) business move.  Creators might also compensate by opening more MYO (Make Your Own) slots, or by creating “budget” designs,which have less-polished artwork and go for less money.

Another way that original species communities try to design a better world for their members is through what I’m calling “altruism events.”  An altruism event can be something done for charity, awareness of a cause, or literally just to make people happy.  Sometimes difficult times befall artists whose main source of income is their original species.  These difficulties could be financial hardship, medical problems, family problems, veterinary expenses, or a broken computer (which makes it impossible for an artist to do digital art).  It is common for members of the artist’s original species community, or even other species creators/communities, to hold charity events for them.  Basically, they will create pre-made designs and sell them, donating 100% of the profit to the person in need.  Here is an example, and another here.  Events done for awareness of a cause are less common, but often occur as part of a prompt or a DTA (Draw to Adopt) event.  Here is an example. Events that are done just to make people happy could be celebrations of reaching a certain membership or time milestone, or for no reason at all!  Basically, this is when an original species creator makes designs or MYO slots available free of cost/work.  Here is an example.

I’m not really sure what my goal was with this blog; I may have just wanted to cheer myself up.  Either way, I hope this extra bit of info about original species communities added something to our understanding of how virtual online microcosms can help us imagine a better, less greedy world.

A Jar of Salsa

A lot of my personal interests and projects have happened to coincide with elements of this Digital Stroytelling/Networked Narratives course, and this week is yet another entry for the list.  A friend and former coworker of mine from the Writing Center (she has since graduated and begun her teaching career) have been planning to make a podcast for quite some time, and this weekend we finally met to cement some details for it.  We’re calling our project A Jar of Salsa: For the Casual Academic.

salsa

The Jar of Salsa saga actually began at a table in the campus Starbucks during the finals season of the Fall 2016 semester.  I was working on a large, challenging research paper, and my friend was grading papers.  Both of us were in that particular state of delirium one enters when they have had way too little sleep and way too much stress, not to mention way too much caffeine to compensate for the former.  I had just enjoyed an end-of-semester party for one of my classes, for which I had brought chips and salsa.  Because that class was relatively small, and everyone had brought food, I had a fair amount of chips and salsa leftover.  At some point during the night, my friend and I began to eat the leftover chips and salsa, and to discuss our work, writing studies in general, teaching life, and a variety of other topics.  I don’t remember how or when we decided that our conversation would make a great podcast, but we did wind up at that conclusion.  We wanted to bring the spicy spark of that cafe-table environment to others because it had been so productive, fun, cathartic, and inspiring for the both of us.

In addition to being a tasty snack associated with casual gatherings, salsa is symbolic of a mindset.  I’ve heard that many people are starting to view America less as a melting pot, where identities liquify into each other to make something completely new, and more like a stew, where identities are preserved and accepted into a larger whole.  Salsa, with its mixture of distinct, flavorful vegetables and spices, is like the proverbial stew, except it cannot be eaten alone; it needs chips or something else to move it into the mouth.  The salsa signifies an ideal for academia: a place of inclusivity, with a wide range of contrasting and complementing ideas and viewpoints.  The chips represent the need to move meaningful “scholarly” conversation out of lecture halls and into mainstream society.

To capture our desired feel, we want to make use of certain sounds and music.  Each episode of A Jar of Salsa will begin with the sound of a lid being popped off of a salsa jar; each episode will end with the sound of a metal lid being screwed back onto a jar.  During the episode, transitions will be marked with the sounds of crunching chips, a rustling bag, and a jar lid moving across the table.  The music will be faint and jazzy, much like what one would hear in a coffee shop.  We may also see if we can figure out how to mix in sounds like muffled conversation or plates clinking.

A Jar of Salsa will have multiple series, each of which will consist of ten 20-minute episodes.  Each series will follow a theme; for example, language is what we’re planning for the first series.  Each episode will feature a guest talking about some facet of that theme (and their favorite kind of salsa!).  In addition, each episode will feature improv, the sharing of teaching/tutoring experiences, reviews of resources, and clips of topical questions asked to laypeople on the street or around campus.  New episodes will be released on a monthly basis (we’re busy!).  We’re currently in the process of working out episode topics and guests, but we’re planning for the first episode to feature a colleague of ours talking about Language and Superheroes.  We hope that the results will be informative and entertaining, and that listeners will feel like they’re sitting at a table with us sharing a snack and talking casually about “academic” topics.

The biggest challenge for us right now is figuring out how to work audio and recording software.  Neither of us have experience with sound editing or high-quality recording equipment.  We’re going to be relying on our own laptop computers and the GarageBand software, at least that’s the plan.  I think this lack of knowledge about sound/audio equipment is the biggest barrier to entry when it comes to sharing sound creatively online.  We are taught how to make websites and blogs in our major, but not how to handle sound.  I wonder if this stems from a separation in our minds between written and verbal communication?

 

 

 

 

 

Original Species: A Colorful Kind of Transmedia Generative Literature

Since we talked about netprov this week, and we’ll be talking about fan fiction next week, I figured this would be the perfect time to share a passion of mine, which kind of exists in the juncture between those two genres: original species.  Original species communities tend to crop up in online visual art communities, most notably DeviantArt, but the generative literature they engender spans a variety of mediums.  Just to clarify, when I use the term “generative” here, I am using it in the way for which electronic literature scholar Dr. Mia Zamora advocates: a collaborative, nonlinear sort of networked narrative.  Although the computer is necessary to facilitate the community network, it is people who do the creating, not computers.

First off, I should probably explain what original species are.  Basically, an artist creates a fictional species, usually with lore and a world built around them.  The creator then provides information about the species’s morphology (usually in the form of pre-made character designs and features sheets), social habits, intelligence level, etc. If others are interested in the species, they can create, buy, or otherwise obtain a species character.  This is where things get a little complicated.

A closed species is a species that people must obtain explicit permission to create a character of.  Often this involves the exchange of actual or digital currency to buy a pre-made character design or a MYO (make your own) slot.  Other methods of obtaining a closed species character include: raffles, trading of services (art, design, or writing commissions), DTA (draw to adopt) or WTA (write to adopt) contests, and trading character designs of other species.    Most closed species creators tend to be art students or emerging artists, and some of them even make a living entirely off of their closed species.  Because these species are a sort of business for their creators, there are usually records kept of users who own designs, and which designs they own.  If someone who doesn’t officially own a design tries to steal another user’s design and claim it as their own, the species creator or administrators react to reprimand or ban the dishonest user.  A handful of closed species creators have even trademarked their species.  This may seem harsh and exclusionary, but most closed species communities do offer ways for people who don’t own a design to participate.  These include mascot or NPCs (non-player characters), who are free for anyone to draw or write about, and the option to create art or writing of other users’ characters as gift art.  Many times, closed species communities make use of some kind of rewards system; if a user creates enough gift art/writing for other users in the community, they can earn a MYO slot.

An open species is a species that anyone can create a character of at any time without contacting the creator.  This includes making and selling character designs.  A semi-open species is a species that allows users to create their own character for personal use, but they must contact the creator and have the creator approve their character design.  Other users are not allowed to make and sell designs of a semi-open species.

Now that that’s out of the way, we can move on to the species communities.  The real magic of original species comes from the multifaceted worlds that users contribute to create.  A wonderful example of this is the GremCorps community. The creator of the Grem2 species, who goes by the username MrGremble, started the Grem2 networked narrative with their own rich lore and art, as can be seen on the linked website.  Members of the community build off this lore by creating their own characters, stories, relationships, artwork, and writing.

lil_gremcorps_site_sneakpeek_by_mrgremble-d8kme0s

Artwork and species concept by MrGremble on DeviantArt

To facilitate the creation of art and literature, GremCorps provides its users with prompts.  Like our class’s Daily Digital Alchemy, these prompts are interpreted by users in a variety of creative ways.  Here is a sample of a prompt and the literature it generates:

Prompt    –     Writing Entry    Visual Art Entry 

Even though I have only provided links to writing and two-dimensional visual art, other responses to prompts have included: sculpture, video game/computer program design, crafts, and custom plush toys.

In addition to being networked by the fact that all Grem2 characters exist within the same species and world, some users specifically seek out other users’ characters to incorporate into their stories and art.  This means finding friends, enemies, rivals, mates, etc. for their Grem2.  This is often accomplished by advertising within the group with what is known as a “tracker.”

Example of a tracker

Finally, many original species communities have their own Skype or Discord groups where members can chat, share ideas, or RP(roleplay).  RPing is very much like netprov in that two or more users write collaboratively on the fly.  The term RP is a bit of a misnomer because users don’t actually assume the identities of their characters; instead they usually write in third person about the actions, words, etc. of one or more of their characters in response to the actions/words of the other user’s character or characters.  Some communities also have ARPGs, which incorporate extra elements such as item collection, breeding, competitions, and more numerous prompts.

This post is by no means an exhaustive analysis of original species communities; there’s a lot of species, each with their own communities and quirks.  Two other notable ones are Chittercida and Pillowings.  Rather, this was intended as an introduction to the genre, and why I think it would be considered generative literature.  I hope I’ve done a decent job explaining things.  If I haven’t, though, or you have any further questions, feel free to ask in the comments!

Royal Flush: 5 Card Flickr Stories

Worry (My 5 Card Flickr Story)

Inspired by these five images:

five-card-flickr-story-2

Worry, I scrawl on the chalkboard.  Awash in the scent of stale coffee and stale sentiments, I stand before the group, vulnerable as the Vitruvian man.  What if you ran that stop sign on Main Street?  What if you hit a pedestrian and forgot? I wait on the dog-handler praise of our therapist.  I count the scuffs on the linoleum tile.

“Worry…” the therapist muses, tapping her pen against her lips, denying me even a nod of approval. “Speak on that a little, George.  Why do you say ‘worry’ is your biggest issue?”

My fellow group members stare trout-eyed, No, I’d remember if I hit someone.  I’d have felt it.  I’d have stopped and called an ambulance no doubt too blanketed in worries of their own to care what I have to say.  But what if I didn’t?  What if I was too distracted to even register the fact that I hit them?  I do that sometimes; I even forget where I’m driving.

“I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder last Fall.  I think it’s pretty self-explanatory.”

“But let’s say it wasn’t.  Let’s say I know nothing about you, and nothing about what it means to worry.”

I sigh, letting my shoulders rise and fall in defeat.  Okay, let’s just play back the drive.  First I was leaving the apartment building, and then I passed the farmer’s market where that lady was selling carved masks and beads.  There was nobody walking in the crosswalk.

“George?”

“Oh, right.  Yeah.  Um…” Shit.  I lost my train of thought.  Let’s start over.  Okay, so I left the apartments, then I drove by the farmer’s market.  I saw the mask lady, and there was no one in the crosswalk.  I stopped at the stop sign.  Right?  I remember putting my foot on the brakes, but did I really stop?  What if it was one of those rolling stops?  No, there was a cop on the corner; he’d have pulled me over for a rolling stop.  Wait.  Fuck.  How did I forget the cop?  I should play it back again, to make sure I really have all the details.  If I forgot the cop, I could have forgotten hitting someone. Okay, so I drove out of the apartment parking lot…

“Worry is like one of those ugly gargoyles you see on the sides of churches.  You’re always told as a kid that they have a purpose, but no one ever really agrees on it.  One person says they’re water spouts; another person says they chase away evil spirits…  All you know is that they’re ugly and you can’t look away from them.”

I look around the room again and see one of my group members answering a text message.  What if that’s someone warning her about the hit-and-run on Main Street, about the caution tape, and the police investigating?  Another group member bites into a cherry Danish that oozes like the entrails of a crushed pedestrian.

“What do you think the purpose of worry is, George?”

“Well, like, in caveman times, it kept us from getting killed by sabretooth tigers and shit.  Like, if you worried about the tigers, then you’d probably be prepared if they showed up, and you’d have your spear or something to take it out before it got you.”

The therapist frowns and presses her lips together as if she’s trying to make them disappear.  Let’s play back the drive again.  Just one more time to make sure. 

“George, you’re looking anxious.  You’re speaking more quickly than usual.  Are you uncomfortable talking about this in front of the group?”

“No.”

Fuck damn!  Now I have to start all over again.  This is ridiculous.  I know I didn’t hit anyone.  I’d have seen blood on the front of my truck when I got out.  Unless the pedestrian only had internal bleeding.  No.  I’d have felt the bump.  Although, my truck has good enough shocks that I might not have, especially if it was a little kid.  Little kids run into the road all the time…

“Would you like to change the subject?”

“I don’t care.  I’d really just like to sit down.”

“What are you worrying about right now, George?”

I can’t tell her.  If I tell her and I really did hit someone, it’d be a confession of guilt.  She’d have to turn me in.  Then they’d try me for vehicular manslaughter, and put me in jail, and then I’d lose my wife and kids.  No more playing in the leaves with Tina and Brody.  They’d have to send me photos of the autumn leaves because all I’d see is the prison yard, and that doesn’t even change color in the Fall.

“I’m worrying about a lot of things.”

What if the person I hit got a head injury, but they’re not dead?  Maybe the guy is irreparably brain-damaged now, and his wife has to feed him with some kind of medical grade spork?

“Would you like to share?”  No.  I’m sure I didn’t hit anyone.  I’d have stopped; I’m a good person.  That’s a big thing.  I couldn’t just zone out and forget hitting someone.

“No.  I’d like to sit down.”

Let’s play back the drive one more time, just one more time, and then I can stop thinking about it…

Thorn Eaters (My Story Based on Someone Else’s 5 Cards)

Inspired by these five images:

five-card-flickr-3

My ancestors ate thorns.  They chewed on the sunrise and shat out the evening stars.  They scaled mountains without ever touching them.  They gored wolves with their horns and watched the toothy bastards bleed.  Every day was an adventure, a struggle, and a bleating song to the Earth’s beating heart.

When first they saw man, my ancestors must have looked upon his cloth-wrapped feet and snorted.  How soft when compared to our mighty hooves!  How clumsy were his steps when compared to our cliff-face dances!

But man had something we did not.  Man had fences.  Man had food and shelter and convenience.  We followed him to his farms.  Our does gave him their milk, nursing his kids from a distance.  We gave man the strength to build more fences, and we did not try to jump them.

Now, we have forgotten how to jump.  We can hop, yes, thrust our horns at each other in half-hearted motions that kill the time, but we can no longer jump.  We chew our cud and watch our kids sniff helplessly at lower, barer fences than ever before.

The only thorns we eat are the ones on man’s roses.

Reflection

Of these two stories, I actually like my second one more.  Somehow it was easier to get into the head of a goat than it was to get into the head of someone else with OCD.  I don’t mean easier in terms of completing the task, but easier in terms of mental load.  The goat’s head was more comfortable to be in.  Writing my first story was exhausting because it’s very similar to what I live with everyday.  So it was like double half-caf OCD latte with soy milk, please!  The type of obsessions the character in the story has are a real thing, called Hit-and-Run OCD, but they’re not the same obsessions that I deal with.  Another big inspiration for my first story is something that was said in the Studio Visit today with Mark Marino and Rob Wittig: as wonderful as language is, it’s still impossible to fully communicate our emotions.  I wanted to highlight that in my story.  There’s like three layers to it.  The first layer is George’s obsessions, the second layer is what George is saying to the therapist, and the third layer is me, an OCD-sufferer, trying my damnedest to communicate what it’s like to have OCD through the character of George.

Finding the 4 Elements

First off, let me share my photos:

Fire:

Literal:

fire-literal

Symbolic:

fire-symbolic

Air:

Literal:

air-literal

Symbolic:

air-symbolic

Earth:

Literal:

earth-literal

Symbolic:

earth-symbolic

Water:

Literal:

water-literal

Symbolic:

water-symbolic

Some of these were harder to find than others, and for two I actually had to go back into the archive of pictures I’d previously taken.  These were Fire Literal and Earth Literal.  Fire Literal is the image of a sunset I took during the Fall near Stockton, New Jersey, and Earth Literal is a cute, little slug friend I found back in Summer.

For Fire Symbolic, I turned to my own physical wunderkammer to photograph a WW2 grenade.  Don’t worry!  Even though the pin is there, the part in the middle that actually ignites has been removed, so it’s completely harmless.  To the left of the grenade is a piece of Trinitite, sand from the Nevada desert that was melted into a grainy, glass-like rock during atomic bomb tests.  It is also harmless; the amount of radiation given off by small pieces of Trinitite is negligible.   The can behind the grenade is a (still-sealed) can of drinking water from a 1950s bomb shelter.  To the left of that is a WW2-era war ration booklet, and next to that is a lantern used by political activists of yesteryear.  Sorry, I know not all of these are symbolic of fire, but I just couldn’t resist sharing anyway (my ‘kammer is my pride and joy).

Air Literal and Water Literal were both taken on the Kean University campus.  Air Literal is steam rising from a grate, and Water Literal is the stream that runs through Main Campus by the Center for Academic Success.

Air Symbolic is a pen sketch that I quickly digitally painted over.  It’s an imaginary creature I made up called a Miasmid.  I imagine that Miasmids are corrupted Air Elementals.

Earth Symbolic is a picture I took in the Stroud Mall in Pennsylvania.  Yes, that is a mall kiosk for a cemetery.  I guess nothing completes a shopping experience like shopping for one’s own burial plot… I felt this cemetery kiosk embodied Earth because of the whole “memento mori” aspect.  Shopping malls are often created with a purpose to make shoppers forget about the outside world, like little consumerist microcosms.  This kiosk reminds shoppers, whether intentionally or not, that no matter how much humanity blocks out or sterilizes the world, we’ll all one day return to the Earth in one way or another.

Water Symbolic is a photograph of a painting of the Jersey Shore (Holy Baudrillard, Batman!)  This particular painting hangs in the back office area of the Delaware Valley Family Health Center, where my late mother worked.  When she passed, her coworkers got the painting to memorialize her because she loved the Jersey Shore so much.

This assignment was definitely unlike anything I expected, but it was fun.  For some elements, I had a few pictures to choose from.  For example, I was tempted to use a candle flame for Fire Literal, a sketch of another elemental monster for Earth Symbolic, and a picture of a coffee cup for Fire Symbolic.  I decided against the candle flame because I just thought the sunset was more visually appealing; I decided against the sketch because a cemetery mall kiosk was too bizarre not to share, and I decided against the coffee cup because I wanted to share some of the contents of my wunderkammer.  Yes, #selfindulgence again on that one.

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