The Elevator Play

21 11 2010

The other day, I’m not sure which other day, I was reading about formulaic story plots. One of the most commonly used is the Elevator Play, especially in theater. This isn’t like the Elevator Pitch, which is given in an actual elevator in order to elevate one’s status, but rather a theoretical construct in which the characters are confined together in a limited space (like an elevator). “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (sp) is a classic example of this. The action takes place in basically one spot the whole time. You can see how a playwright would love a limited space like this. Screw the setting changes, focus just on the characters.

According to the formula, you put a bunch of characters in the space together and then at least one of them goes berserk, or otherwise instigates the rest of the group. The physical limitations imposed by the setting then force the characters to confront some kind of personal demons.

It’s interesting how that theory applies to many stories. Think about “LOST,” which I’m just about done watching. Maybe down to the last three or four episodes or so (whew!) and I’ve already seen the finale. So a bunch of people are on an airplane (another classic Elevator Play scenario) and then they crash onto an island (there’s the confinement again) and, guess what, they’re not only being chased down by smoke monsters and giant polar bears, but they’re being forced to confront their own personal demons. Be they misgivings about one’s father, as in pretty much all the cases, or something else. Who knows what. And, guess what, some of those people are unstable and they create trouble, but everyone’s trapped there and they can’t leave. And so it goes, until it all gets boring, and then they get to leave the island … all the events from the second half of the show were created to cope with the limitations of the island setting. It gets to the point where the island scenes are less interesting than everything else.

I think an interesting writing exercise is to think about your “elevator” and what kind of people you would want to put in it. If I had to pick one, it would be a subway car late at night, or a family hiding out in a bomb shelter underground, or maybe some kids who eat lunch together in their school’s band room. It could even be a shady motel room on Route 66, or a Seattle office during the dot-com boom. Maybe even the Donner Party in a snowstorm. There’d be some archetypes: the wide-eyed innocent, the sage, the stoic, the trickster, the thief, the cannibal. Naturally, some wouldn’t get along, and some would get hungry.

The theory behind the Elevator Play probably explains what makes reality shows so remarkably compelling. There’s usually a set location or premise that permits a group of attractive young people to stop being polite and start getting real. That is, they get into a fancy house and then start getting naked, showering together, fighting about petty things, doing mandatory volunteer work, confessing to the camera and having pixellated sex on camera. Which is about as real as it gets.

I’m now several years older than most of the cast members, but let me tell you, the Real World kids have nothing on me; they’d better get those elevator pitches ready.

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Stuff People Seem To Like #5: H1N1/Swine flu

14 11 2009

Don’t get me wrong. People don’t really “like” swine flu, H1N1, but they sure are obsessed with it. I think I darn well might have it right now. Every respectable health source I’ve looked at seems to be indicating that the standard flu isn’t here yet and most cases of the flu that are surfacing right now are in fact H1N1. (Don’t quote me on that, however.)

I suppose I should go to the doctor, but what’s the point? The most I could hope for is a dose of Tamiflu and at this point, I’m not sure if it would really help. I’m just going to ride out this awful, awful storm. Now, you may be wondering what this flu experience is like. Here’s my personal experience with this mystery respiratory ailment:

On Monday night of this week, I started feeling chilly at the office. My coworkers reassured me that it was cold inside, I wasn’t getting sick, etc. But I felt like something was not quite right. I made it to work on Tuesday and  continued to worsen, but still wasn’t all that bad. It was raining pretty hard that night and I returned to my apartment soaking wet. After drying myself off, I collapsed into bed. By the next morning, Wednesday, I could hardly get out of bed. I was so sore, my chest was heaving and wheezing, and I was having trouble breathing. My tonsils were swollen and were collecting tonsil stones, which added to my sore throat. I hadn’t had this tonsil problem in probably a year. In short, I could barely make it the few feet across my quasi-loft apartment to contact my colleagues, much less go to work.

I’ve read unsubstantiated rumors that H1N1 attacks the lungs first, versus the upper respiratory tract as in most ailments. That seems to jive with my experience, as I’ve never heard my lungs wheeze like that before. It also theoretically  would make it pretty dangerous for people with athsma. The CDC advises people with lung problems to be cautious and seek help immediately if they come down with flu-like symptoms.

Anyway, I rode out Wednesday night and felt hungry, so I went out for a quick dinner and drinks (one alcoholic, two cranberry virgin). I felt fine, and thought the worst was over, but felt like collapsing as I walked across the street to my complex. That night was the worst of the worst, as I shivered nonstop for about eight hours. Thursday settled down a bit but I had no food or good drinks in my fridge, so I summoned the energy to go shopping that night. I made it back without too much trouble, but was pretty much a rock. On Friday, I decided that I would just take the day off and then ride out the weekend.

Unfortunately, my coworkers alerted me to the fact that Friday was also the deadline for health benefits election. This time, it was mandatory, no skirting, no exceptions. So I summoned my last reserve of energy and slowly trudged to work to do my benefits election. It became clear that I was not capable of making it through a full day of work. I had a terrible coughing fit and almost thought I might have a fit of vomiting. I calmed my queasy stomach and downed as much water as I could, and blew my nose and coughed until things settled down. Then I finished the deed on my computer, e-mailed myself some crucial notes and got the Dickens out of there. I thought it ironic that I had to put my health and others’ health at risk in order to get health benefits. Life is funny that way.

I’ve retraced my steps for the past week, trying to ascertain when I was exposed. I was around a lot of crowds the past weekend and could have theoretically picked something up at that time, but none of my compadres who I hung out with last weekend are feeling the way that I do. Thank God for that. So how did I get so sick? Hard to say, but I’ll be happy to have some semblance of immunity if I make it through this unscathed.

My consolation is that symptoms should be improving starting on days 4 and 5, namely this weekend. I doubt that I’ll be able to join friends and colleagues in partying it up, but hopefully things will be a bit more comfortable. Which is good, because I miss drinking beer and not having such a remarkably short fuse.

Did I mention the mood swings? I have felt horrible both physically and mentally. I am the kind of person that likes to live life to the fullest (yes) and to be in this kind of shape is torturous and causes my thoughts to drift in unhappy directions. I’m trying to think about joyous things, like looking over my vacation photos and planning future trips abroad. Anything to get my head in the clouds and out of the dumps. I’m certain that by the time I am better, I will be a new woman and I will be prepared to take the world by storm. Until then, I wait.

And there you have it. I have once again bared my soul, and perhaps shared too much about my innermost feelings, and I will probably apologize for something I wrote here. But hey, at least it’s cathartic. See you on the other side of the dark side of the moon, world.





Dragon*Con redux: Part Deux: The Recap

9 09 2009
 


Thriller creep

Originally uploaded by N-Sai

So just a few days ago, I made my third expedition into Dragon*Con. As usual I was overwhelmed by the schedule, the possibilities and my own physical limitations. It is difficult to stand up for hours and wander around. Heaven forbid that you are wearing a sweaty Klingon outfit and carrying a bunch of memorabilia around. I’d hope these folks have a hotel room that they can retire to.

The impression that I get is the 2009 event was the largest ever. It was super-crowded. We got to do a few things and it was fun, but we had to fight a little and be smart about it. No doubt, the fact that William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy were making appearances must have drawn in the crowds by the thousands. It was, by all accounts, a magical exchange. I was at work, but I was there in spirit. Now, if only I cared about all these newfangled shows the kids are watching. Im an old-school Trek and TNG fangirl. Buffy, Babylon and Battlestar don’t really do it for me. And the new Star Trek movie? I have to admit, it was a bit of an affront.

I managed to get myself up for the parade (my second year doing this) and enjoyed it, although it was much harder to see than last year. After that, we objectified ourselves by looking at wings, masks, corsets, bellydancing suits and other geeky and nerdy thingamajigs. It was good because one of our non-Con-membership-$$$ friends was able to sneak in with us and buy some things, thus helping the tourist E-Con-omy — someone who otherwise wouldn’t go. That’s how we justified it; I think it’s just like how BART overcharges for travel to SFO airport — because tourist dollars are sought after more than resident dollars. When the Patrick Stewart line had gone through (our mouths were agape at the fact that it stretched through the Marriott and into Peachtree Center mall), I asked the ushers if I could get inside and we lucked out. Captain Picard was on fire, exchanging hot remarks with the Trek Trak show hosts with the sharp, barbed wit of a bald, Shakespearean science fiction actor. We sought coffee and were immediately besieged by geeks with cameras and horrible pickup lines. 

After that, we marched around some of the show areas where art is on display and went to see a concert by Abney Park that was right in the middle of the Hyatt ballrooms. The fire marshall was literally pacing back and forth like Darth Vader, and his D*C minions were adamant that people were to “keep moving” and not linger in the area around the concert. Clearly the demand exceeded supply. I don’t know why the fire marshall didn’t don a villainous constume, because it would have befitted his cretinous ways. I was tired at that point and could hardly see what was going on because the crowd of ewoks and other ridiculousness had gotten thick. I heard some clapping and cheering going on. Turns out, there was a marriage proposal during the concert. Too bad I couldn’t hear. But, congratulations to the lucky couple. We had run into a coworker who was working on a video piece about love and romance at Dragon*Con (not as much of an oxymoron as it seems) and we let him know about this as well.

The rest of the time around then is a little fuzzy. At a later point we were wandering around the art show. And at still another point, we attended a panel discussion by some people who worked at Battlestar Galactica (but were not key players like writers or actors). In the words of a friend, they “towed the company line” in regards to fans’ questions and disappointment about the series ending. I didn’t know what they were all talking about, but I enjoyed getting this sense of the kinds of reactions fans get to work that people put out, as well as a way NOT to act when receiving criticism and affection from devoted followers. It was enlightening nonetheless. I also remember we tried to sneak into the Leonard Nimoy panel just as we did with Patrick Stewart only to find that it was canceled. Oh well, at least we didn’t have to wait in line to find out.

And then, sometime later in the evening, we went to go get some food and had some geeky conversations, and then we attended a panel on skepticism (a bit baffling to me coming from a crowd of folks dressed in Spandex alien suits), followed up by a “filk” concert by Tom Smith. I always forget what filk is, but it’s basically a geeky version of folk music. The music guests that I saw were a lot better last year. Voltaire and folk duo Paul and Storm were there. I know the latter joined the likes of Jonathan Coulton and Wil Wheaton at Penny Arcade Expo this year. Hey, I can’t blame them for wanting to go to Seattle. In fact, I’m thinking if I do a Con again, I might seek out a change of pace by heading out West instead of looking outside my back door.

After that, or maybe before that, my memory fails me, we had some time to kill and went in search of amusement. We found it in a tiny, dark room showing bizarre films. We watched the last act of “Black Sheep,” an apparently foreign film (Australian? I’m going to get myself in trouble here…) about evil mutant sheep that attack humans and try to turn them into additional members of their kind. Yes, I said evil mutant sheep. The film is a hoot. After that, we saw the beginning of a horrible movie about lesbian vampires. Meh. It was kind of entertaining, though.

We closed out the night with a rousing concert by Cruxshadows, a funhouse-mirror reflection of Depeche Mode; I would describe it as the band’s brooding, younger, goth-ier brother — the one who cuts himself for attention. No, but Cruxshadows rocked the carpeted ballroom floors in stylish fashion. The band isn’t all that well-known, so they were hungry to bond with fans. That made this a great show. The lead singer dude came into the audience right in front of us on a couple of occasions, standing on a chair in one instance and doing some sort of a dance in another. And then at the end, everyone jumped up on stage and the singer picked up a young child that had been sitting on someone’s shoulders (!) much to the crowd’s excitement. Everyone was singing along and it was awesome.

That was the conclusion of day one. Day 2 found me sleeping in, going to a brunch at Straits in midtown, venturing out to the Decatur Book Festival, and then heading back intown just in time to join the world’s largest thriller dance. It was chaos when I got there and I almost didn’t get to dance. They were only going to let the first 1,000 go in, and they weren’t giving out any more ribbons. I was lucky that someone in the gift shop heard my pleas for a ribbon and mentioned that her pelvis hurt too much (or something along that line) and soon I found myself with three ribbons in the 400 group. And thus I had admission for my friends as well. It was a good time. The way I see it, the count is MORE accurate this way, even if it’s not the same person.

The dancers included a giant Michael Jackson single shiny glove, Cookie Monster in an orange jacket, storm troopers, zombie Elvis and some other colorful folks. It was a good time. The dance was more involved than I thought. I tried to recreate it for my coworkers the next day when we went wading in a fountain near the office, but was not very successful. That MJ. So talented was he. And such a great zombie.

And then more dinner and talking and a little more gawking and soon I was back at home, celebrating and mourning the end of my Con experience at the same time. Maybe next year I’ll go to PAX in Seattle for a change of scenery. Maybe not. I’m certain that there’s something magical about Dragon*Con and I hope it stays that way.





Working in the middle of a tourist attraction

18 04 2009
 


Order like an Egyptian

Originally uploaded by N-Sai

You never know what you’re going to run into in the CNN Center since it’s such a popular stop whenever a big event comes to town. People stop by to eat, to chat and to grab a cup of overpriced Joe.

The junior robot builders competition is always a real treat because the participants wear festive costumes to identify their team. This group really took it to the next level by dressing like pharaohs from Egypt. Good times.





The value of civility

4 04 2009

Honor and civility have their place in this dog-eat-dog world we live in. I firmly believe that you must keep your head high no matter what, and you can’t stoop to any level. Sometimes it’s hard to live up to this ideal, but you have to try. Conflict is a chance for communication and greater understanding.

People on the Internet, and in many facets of society, often fail to realize that others are just like them. Some are just trolls. But in many cases, a would-be enemy can be turned into a friend.

Case in point, a few days ago, I received a heated comment on one of my flickr images expressing offense and disappointment at the title. My first urge was to retaliate. How dare he? Upon closer examination, it seemed that the person was probably reaching out (in their own way). As much as I wanted to give this person a piece of my mind, I decided to change the title and then initiate a conversation with this fellow. I think now that I have made a new friend.

This was a strangely profound experience for me, however miniscule in the scheme of things.  I wish more people would just calm down and take a second to listen to each other, and that goes for myself too. Indeed, by being understanding and assertive, we can turn enemies into friends and the opposition into allies. This is not to paint a rosy view of the world (as I am extremely well aware of the many inequities this world brings), but only to emphasize that even when it is difficult, the only way we can move forward is together.





Waiting for the world to change

28 03 2009

I guess the frustrations that I’m feeling (and the world collectively is feeling) about the state of newspapers, journalism education, media literacy and academia have got to come to a head sometime. Maybe now. The tensions have always been there, and this bad economy is merely the tipping point that will catalyze further change.

It’s almost cliche now but Clay Shirky’s article about the uncertainty and possible troubles ahead (thinking the “unthinkable” so to speak) is a pretty sobering view of the challenges ahead. I’d like to think that things won’t be quite that bad, but we can definitely expect that things may never be the same. When I was studying journalism and walking the hallowed halls of academia, I always felt a little uneasy. Sort of like I was traveling back in time and not really in step with what was going on outside the newsroom and journalism classroom. (Granted, they were trying as hard as they could, and none of us really had the answer. We’re still learning.)

Especially in light of what you can see happening now, I can certainly relate to Shirky’s concept of being a “barking madman” about the future, although I can hardly blame my contemporaries for resisting in a time when finances weren’t so dire and there wasn’t such a stark division between success and failure. But going into college, I was terribly undecided and uninspired whenever I examined the reams and reams of schools and majors at my university. I simultaneously wanted to everything and nothing. So little information about what to do with information.

The job I do now didn’t exist then, and I couldn’t have conceived of it as I sat at desks listening to old war stories of reporting about criminals and city councils. Sure, we discussed the Web and experimented with it and did internships and made online magazines, but we viewed it with a certain distant reverence and simultaneous grateful pity toward the people making it happen. “Web producer” jobs at that time weren’t terribly exciting — little more than shuffling content from print to online. We knew that was the future, but we had horrific visions of being reduced to moles working odd hours to cut and paste someone else’s stories — nearly going blind from wading through a sea of poorly conceived HTML tags.

Overall, I am thrilled with the education I got. It steered me where I needed to go. But I got lucky, too, and I wonder if the time has come for everyone to think differently about things. (It’s not just me wondering.)

I remember how we used to think back then. Focus on the basics and then the technology will fall into place afterward. Turns out things are changing so fast that the basics themselves have changed.

What about the future? We all knew deep down the current newspaper model was unsustainable. I’m surprised it worked as long as it did. Are people really going to pay for what is essentially old and outdated news that wastes trees, when they can get the same thing for free? I love reading a newspaper and being able to hold it in my hand, but I don’t like dealing with the waste of paper or the mass of it, and I don’t want to pay for it every day. And this idea that newspapers should withhold news until the morning… that worked then, but what about now, when the rumor mill is so much more active? It will only be more so in the future. Sure, the “hold-for-release” concept has its appeal and its need, but for crucial information and breaking news, old news is no news.

Some folks from the now-beleaguered East Valley Tribune, once heralded as a great Phoenix-area paper, are trying to start online-only publications. Same with people who left the shuttered Rocky Mountain News. Lots of people are starting up as citizen journalists, and will be doing it. Heck, dealing with that stuff is my job now. Could we have imagined that someone like me would make a living like this just a few years ago? I never would have fathomed and yet here we are.

So… we’re certain now that the future is uncertain and people won’t have the big conglomerations that we once had. Things are going to be individually driven. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. The question is, if it’s not your full-time job, will you have time to do the reporting? Will your employer allow you to be a reporter and can you maintain the distance required? Who’s going to keep an eye on City Hall?

From my limited experience doing traditional news reporting, I recall attempting to gain respect from sources and the community (and my editors) by building a sense of trust among people and having good relationships with area stakeholders. That’s not a whole lot different from what I’ve seen while experimenting with social media. You build a following on one of these sites by captivating interest, putting in work and reciprocating with other members. In other words, you “join the conversation,” one of the most overused phrases ever as of late. But that ain’t no bull.

Conversation and community give you something that content cannot. One important thing Shirky notes is that people on Usenet were making copies of Dave Barry’s work back when the Internet started, and publishers’ immediate guttural reaction was to attempt to stop the sharing and stifle human nature. It is human nature to want to share and even to take another’s idea and spread it around both because you like the idea and because you want a piece of that attention for yourself. In short, trying to fight this urge is counterproductive.

Content is reproducible in many cases, but you cannot take a human interaction or experience and replicate it.

At the same time, you well know that people tend to develop great interest in certain kinds of content and high levels of traffic can go to these places. Sites are very good at delivering this content. So this can be capitalized upon and even discussed. If you are the source of this discussion, all the better. But chances are you won’t be, given how information is shared at light speed. Take, for example the idea of people Twittering while in the middle of a plane crash. You can’t beat the speed of that.

What it comes down to is a complex dance not unlike to two awkward birds preparing to mate — not so much audience-performer but more like different voices talking to one another. At least, that’s what my college experiences eventually taught me.





The trouble with New Year’s Eve

4 01 2009
Happy New Year and welcome to 2009! Yay!

Happy New Year and welcome to 2009! Yay!

Look, I dunno what it is, but New Year’s Eve is the most problematic holiday ever. I would like to strike this day from the calendar, because rarely has any good come of it for me. (2007/8 being a rare exception to that rule!) I take it I’m not alone in that feeling, because others have expressed similar sentiments.

So, what happened over New Year’s Eve this year, you ask? I hope yours was better than mine… I worked that night, which honestly was the best part of the night. Kathy Griffin cracked me up, particularly with her highly inappropriate comment about our man Sanjay. I tried to make it a little more festive by wearing an ornamental hat and having an embarrassing Sock Monkey drop witnessed by a whopping one other coworker who was unlucky enough to be walking by on the way OUT THE DOOR (see my flickr for the shameful “after” pic).

But it was downhill from there. I had assumed I could take MARTA home but I left work about 30 minutes too late and got snagged. I live like 2 miles from work but couldn’t get a decent cab ride. There were people prowling the streets and piling up in hotel motor pool areas trying to mob any cab coming nearby. I’ve never seen such a thing. MARTA used to run 24 hours on NYE, but I guess times are a-changing. As luck would have it, I saw two guys get into the back of a cab and I immediately jumped in with them. It was a pretty desperate move. They were going a few blocks from my apartment, so I rode with them and continued on to my destination. The fare came out to $9, which wasn’t bad, considering, and that’s only because I was being generous in contributing to the guys’ fare. They totally stiffed the driver and gave him $11 (including my $4 contribution) instead of $12, and no tip. Dang college kids. And then I got home and heated up my delicious flatbread from Urban Flats (or tried to) and started opening up a bottle of Sangria. As I broke the seal (on the bottle), the entirety of midtown went dark. The power was out! And so was my Internet for the next day or so. As soon as the lights shut off, the generators started kicking in around town and pretty soon it sounded like a helicopter was hovering over my apartment. Good times. So I finally fell asleep around 6 a.m. and then stumbled in to work the next day around 1 p.m. The end.   

Well I mean, I talked to several other folks and they all indicated that letting your expectations get up too high is problematic on this troublesome holiday. A few had mishaps occur. Some didn’t even try to have fun, saying they always find it disappointing. What is it about New Year’s? Is it the fact that it’s not a “regular” night and thus it’s hard to get people together because they have something *better* to do which isn’t really better at all? That’s what I’ve always thought. It’s time someone did something about that. And of course a few people had a blast, but we don’t like them, do we?