Reference Evaluation: “Hidden Intellectualism”

 

In “Hidden Intellectualism,” by Gerald Graff, the author approaches the subject of intellectualism with an authority and voice that resonates deeply. He theorizes that educators can provide more momentum to a student that is “street smart” over being a dyed-in-the-wool intellectual by shifting the focus of course curriculums to a more contemporary focus. Graff offers his personal experience as impetus for the proposed paradigm shift, recounting a childhood that was filled with conflicts between being a smarty-pants or being a common hood (382).

In the forties, Graff became a regular reader of sports magazines (381). Through his reading, he learned the fundamentals of life as an intellectual: he learned to construct an argument, evaluate evidence, to move between application and theory, incorporate summaries of views of others, and enter into conversations about ideas (383). He contends that street smart students can learn to be college or university level intellectuals if they can channel their interests in sports or cars into academic work (383).

To some degree, life as an intellectual has served him well. To date, Mr. Graff has made considerable achievements: he has served as president of the Modern Language Association, and is currently a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

I found much wisdom conveyed through this article, and greatly enjoyed it. However, I would not recommend it as source material for a work analyzing the impact of popular shows on contemporary popular culture. While this article is clearly written, it lacks relevance to your work—it is more autobiographical and opinionated than it is a critical work of any particular genre. Furthermore, it does not offer any potential for future research.

Though this article was written with the educator in mind, any average reader would feel very comfortable reading this work. Graff makes his intention clear from the beginning: “schools and colleges might be at fault for missing the opportunity to tap into such street smarts and channel them into good academic work” (380). He continues that students would be more apt to take on “intellectual identities” if educators—in particular, college or university professors— designed their curriculums with the interests of students in mind versus the interests of Ivory Tower educators (380-81). To some, this would no doubt be a great idea. However, this is a highly arguable proposition and has an altogether different focus than your work.

While Graff speaks from a level of experience that is easily conveyed, his article completely lacks relevance to your work. At its furthest reaches, Graff recommends bringing popular culture into the classroom so students can view contemporary material through the eyes of an academic (386). Graff is more focused on the specific task of re-envisioning Ivory Tower education than he is on popular culture. Perhaps the best saving grace of this work would be his view of what an “Intellectual” is: a person that can bring thoughtful questions to any subject (Graff 381). However, in my reading, I could discern no larger connection than a vague nod to popular culture as it could potentially apply to academic coursework. Any insight this article could provide would be highly inferential or anecdotal at best.

In his article, Graff proffers nothing other than personal experience as evidence to support his proposal. While personal experience can be a major force, in this case, it is not enough to tip the scales in favor of considering this work as reference material. Save for his own account, Graff cites no other studies to support any claim made in his work. Nor does he explicate how this work can be applied to any field outside of education. Graff is suggesting that educators redefine the paradigm that is an Ivory Tower education (385). He theorizes that educators, in designing curriculums, should tune into more contemporary matters that hold a greater attraction to younger minds than Plato, Shakespeare, or Pythagoras, for example (Graff 385). Candidly, he notes that his schools “missed the opportunity” to make use of common elements shared by the intellectual and sports worlds, drama and conflict (Graff 385). However, in this reader’s opinion, this solitary case study is not enough.

For what this work does offer, I would be remiss to recommend “Hidden Intellectualism” as source material of any particular weight. While this article is very clearly written, it lacks relevance to your work and offers nothing towards tenable substantiation. Graff does not cite any study to bolster his claims, offering only his personal account. Nor does he provide any hypothetical situations outside of education in which to apply this categorical shift in the minds of educators, or any other audience, to a wider spectrum than educational assignment prompts. In this reader’s opinion, attention to other potential sources for material would be wisely spent.

Work Cited

Graff, Gerald. “Hidden Intellectualism.” They Say / I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing, with Readings (Second Edition), edited by Gerald Graff, Cathy Birkenstein, and Russell Durst, 2012, Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc., pp. 299-311.

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TV is Bad, M’kay? Light Bulb Moments and the Benefit of Firsthand Educational Experience

The spectrum of writers that have contributed to the subject of whether television can be good or bad is far and wide. Steven Johnson, in an article entitled “Watching TV makes You Smarter,” the author does much to posit that TV can and will make you smarter—provided you watch shows with complex storylines. According to Johnson, the “Sleeper Curve [a term he coins to demarcate shows where you have to pay attention, make inferences, and track shifting social relationships] is the single most important new force altering the mental development of young people today […]” (par. 4). Shows of the nature which he speaks (e.g. 24, The West Wing, and E.R., among others) involve three elements: multiple threads, flashing arrows, and social networks one must stay attuned to in order to get the most benefit (par. 7). Johnson notes, after all, the mind does like to be challenged; that there is “pleasure to be found in solving puzzles, detecting patterns, or unpacking a complex narrative system” (par. 34).

But, what of shows such as Family Guy…? Antonia Peacocke, in her article: “Family Guy and Freud: Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious,” argues Family Guy does have merit, though hidden (308). Much of the humor espoused on Family Guy strikes at our unconscious. It brings to light the most animalistic and aggressive impulses therefrom (308). However, there also exists a corollary…. In “Hidden Intellectualism,” by Gerald Graff, “real intellectuals [can] turn any subject […] into grist for their mill through the thoughtful questions they bring to [the table], whereas a dullard will find a way to drain the interest out of the richest subject” (381). Graff continues, conflict can contribute greatly to intellectual development but in most cases, comes “down to a choice between being physically tough and being verbal” (382). For those that choose being verbal over physical toughness, i.e. an individual that is “street smart” over being “an “intellectual,” can learn to become an intellectual. That is, in reading [or watching TV], you can learn the “rudiments of the intellectual life: how to make an argument, weigh different kinds of evidence, move between particulars and generalizations, summarize the views of others, and enter into a conversation about ideas” (383). Graff describes the impact of this is seen when a street smart person engages in sports debates (384). That person may join a larger sense of community that reaches a public and national level—especially when you can join a Facebook group or page dedicated to a particular subject, be it a book or television show (Graff 384; Peacocke 303).

Under the right circumstances then, watching television can be good for you, but in all probability, it’s the worst thing you can do. Watching television is time-consuming, requires a higher capacity for cognitive functions to derive the full benefit, and firsthand experience is often best for an authentic learning experience.

Watching television, as it’s currently understood, is time-consuming. Gone are the days when you would have to wait a seemingly interminable amount of time for the next episode of your favorite show to air on TV. Now, online streaming services funnel your favorite shows into your home when you want them. According to Lev-Ram, Netflix, one of many popular online media streaming services, “has trained viewers to binge” (par. 5). A term that has grown in recent years, referring to the tendency of viewers to “binge-watch” multiple episodes of a series in one sitting. This perceived benefit is not without its cost though. Winland, in a study among college students found that “39.4% of [surveyed] students reported that they are less engaged in their academics than with online content” (10). To be sure, watching TV, particularly Netflix, can be a major distraction. If viewers are “binge watching,” then they are spending upwards of three hours or more in front of their TV or computers—Netflix, being an online resource, is watched by students primarily on their laptops (Winland 10). Is there any benefit then…? Steven Johnson seems to think so.

Steven Johnson, in “Watching TV Makes You Smarter,” posits that watching TV can actually make a person smarter. He argues that the cognitive demand placed on the minds of viewers is the same as those of readers (par. 7). It would seem that Peacocke and Johnson would be in agreement on this point. Peacocke asserts that even the most coarse of television shows (“Family Guy,” for instance) has merit (308). But where does that merit lie? That merit lies in the thoughtful questions you bring with you in viewing your favorite series or episodes thereof. In order to derive the most benefit, you must already possess an inquisitive, or intellectual mind. As Graff observes, “[r]eal intellectuals turn any subject […] into grist for their mill through the thoughtful questions they bring to it” (381). It would seem then that if you can’t bring anything to the table when viewing, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. However, if, as Johnson surmises, you’re gaining the most benefit from shows that connect multiple threads, thereby exercising the parts of your brain that map social networks, that benefit can be obtained from real, ordinary life. Rather than seeing how your favorite character (a character that’s often written by one or more screenwriters) navigates complex social frameworks, navigate your own.

Firsthand educational experience is often best. In 1993, in developing suggestions for moving students away from “superficial regurgitation” of educational content, the Council for National Academic Awards “championed the strategy of ‘learning by doing,’” especially focusing on methods that fostered a deeper understanding of educational material via “games, simulations, and role plays; visits; and work experience” (par. 1). Ned Laff asserts the challenge in getting a student to interact with material “is not simply to exploit students’ nonacademic interests, but to get them to see those interests through academic eyes” (qtd. in Graff 385). It is through these moments of deeper understanding that provoke “light bulb moments,” as Murphy contends. When an individual learns through their own experience—or has educational content placed in a contextual setting best accustomed to their own level of understanding, their interaction, and consequential understanding, with material grows by leaps and bounds (Murphy par. 14).

In conclusion, watching TV is extremely time consuming, viewers are sometimes watching in three hour periods three or more times per week. That can be over 546 hours per year! There may be some benefit from watching your favorite characters on screen—but that benefit can best be derived if you’re an active watcher (one who asks questions of themselves, or others, or otherwise mentally or verbally participates in the on screen action) versus being just a passive conduit for fictional on screen actions. Firsthand experience is often best for gaining an educational experience. Seeing the words and actions of your favorite on screen characters may be a viable substitute for experience, but should it…? I would opt for firsthand experience over mapping my social interactions to those of fictional characters.

Works Cited:

Council for National Academic Awards. “The Benefits of Active Learning,” www.xroads.virginia.edu/~ma04/mccain/audiohist/intro3.htm, accessed 16 March 2017.

Graff, Gerald. “Hidden Intellectualism,” They Say / I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing, with Readings (Second Edition), edited by Gerald Graff, Cathy Birkenstein, and Russell Durst, Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc., 2012, pp. 299-311.

Johnson, Steven. “Watching TV Makes You Smarter,” The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/24/magazine/watching-tv-makes-you-smarter.html.

Lev-Ram, Michael. “How Netflix Became Hollywood’s Frenemy,” WordPress, 7 June 2016, http://www.fortune.com/netflix-versus-hollywood/.

Murphy, Darryl. “Light Bulb Moments.” WordPress, 19 March 2017, www.dmurphynewmediadesign.wordpress.com/2017/03/19/light-bulb-moments/.

Peacocke, Antonia. “Family Guy and Freud: Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious,” They Say / I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing, with Readings (Second Edition), edited by Gerald Graff, Cathy Birkenstein, and Russell Durst, Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc., 2012, pp. 299-311.

Winland, Cassandra.“An Exploration of Binge-Watching and Its Effects on College Academics,” Squarespace, static1.squarespace.com/ static54c08e42e4b0f1b78348c9ce/t/5527e9a3e4b0c120ebdc7650/1428679075633/ Winland+-+Final+Paper.pdf. Accessed 19 March 2017.

Light Bulb Moments

It is a really special occurrence when students you’ve watched struggle with material suddenly “get it.” In my class we call these “Light Bulb Moments.” You can tell when a student has one: his brow becomes un-furrowed, his eyes, face and mouth smile, and the dark shadow of trying to comprehend is lifted. It’s almost as if a new light has washed over the student.

When I’m tutoring a student, these are the moments I’m striving to achieve. It is then that I know a student understands.

As an Adult Basic Education Tutor, I know it seems a bit odd that I would be the one to chase after these moments; one would think it’s the student that should. However, for me, chasing after these moments pushes me to find better ways for me to get the student to relate to, and more importantly, understand the material I’m presenting. Essentially, tutoring has become a learning process for me as well as my students.

I first got into tutoring for adults while working inside a prison. I have to admit, at first I was a bit hesitant about the idea. However, I firmly believe that even the most grown of adults needs at least a basic education. I wholeheartedly agreed to take the position. And I brought this belief with me when I started.

I quickly learned that no matter how street wise a guy was, when it came to doing the simplest of math–by an intellectualists standards–it was an uphill struggle. The trick that I’ve learned is to incorporate concepts such as fractions or decimals with images and ideas that are common to everyone. Nothing was off limits. On some level, there is a lot of knowledge that every person in prison possesses. The key is finding that level.

A person may be in prison for a vast array of crimes. Typically, I see a lot of drug dealers, pimps, and murderers. Over the years I’ve found that a person who is incarcerated for any crime is usually able to weigh drugs or count money. So, when I develop lessons, or examples for explaining various concepts, for example, fractions or decimals, the examples I use will usually involve some aspect of their criminal lives.

It may seem counter to the theory of corrections to teach people according to their criminal lives. But I am not in corrections. I am in education. My goal is not rehabilitation, it is to educate. With that goal being paramount, whatever I do as an ABE Tutor is to get the student to experience a “Light Bulb Moment.”

A favorite method of mine—and my students’—is to convert decimals into a dollars and cents format. Decimals such as 4.95, 0.09, 3.7, and 100.79 are better understood by all as “four dollars and ninety-five cents,” nine cents,” “three dollars and seventy cents” (formed by adding a zero after the seven) and “one hundred dollars and seventy-nine cents,” respectively.

When I use these methods, faces light up around the room.

“Oh! I never looked at ‘em like that.”

“Now that you put it that way….”

This new dawn of understanding brings all manner of responses. And I relish in the knowledge that my students are now interacting with the concept I’m presenting.

I’ve seen that when a student begins interacting with the material, he understands and performs better. If you step back at that moment you can almost see the connections firing in their brains as they reach out to the material. Rather than me leading them, they begin leading and following themselves. Sometimes they stumble, but a well-placed hand will often get the student back on the path.

When I first started as an ABE Tutor, I truly never thought that I would feel as gratified at the end of the day as I do. I think that the first time I had a student have a “Light Bulb Moment” really turned me on to the idea of tutoring adults. Prior to that moment, I had only just presented the material and graded the submitted work.

Today, I actively talk with my students about their lives before coming to prison. I find that it’s important for two very important reasons: it builds a good rapport and helps me to find ways for me to make their job of learning easier. That way, education, at least in my class becomes a to-way street: I learn how to teach them better, and they learn the skills they need to succeed on they General Equivalency Diploma tests.

When you really want to have your students experience their own “Light Bulb Moments,” think of what your student can do, i.e. counting money, weighing things, etc., and build your lesson plans  around those skills. And hopefully, if you’ve done it right, you’ll see more “Light Bulb Moments.”

Death to the Scraps: The Importance of Keeping a Writer’s Notebook

The other day I found a note in my pocket.  I couldn’t quite make it out.  But it was my handwriting.  I could tell because it had my scrawny chicken scratches on it, the w that looks like an n – or is it an n that looks like a w?  One of those notes that you have to study for a long time before you can almost make out what it’s supposed to say, and even then, you’re still a little dubious as to your intent when you wrote it.

I’ve never been a big note-taker.  Quite often, I’m in such a hurry that any note I write for myself is some vague and cryptic impression jotted down on a scrap of paper.  For me, it is a common occurrence to empty my pockets at the end of the day only to find a jumble of scraps.  It never fails that they all have indecipherable scribbles or codes on them.  When an idea strikes, I am filled with such excitement that my handwriting becomes utterly atrocious.  Quite often, I feel like one of the code breakers who cracked Enigma during World War II.  And my reading list is so long that I really don’t have – or take – time to record my reflections.  Consequently, I’m sure that some great thoughts have been forever lost.

In my effort to combat my own cryptic notes of my inattention to my reflections, I have adopted the method of keeping a writer’s notebook.  I know, I know.  It’s not really a startling revelation when you think about it but with thirty to forty minutes set aside at the end of the day, the inherent potential of the notebook is staggering.

The first – and perhaps the most beneficial- perk about keeping a notebook is that it allows us as writers to stay present.  Stay present, you ask?  What exactly does that mean? A notebook provides the perfect opportunity for us as writers to keep a record of our personal histories.  Our histories have everything to do with the present.  How are we to know where we’re going if we never look back?

A lot of times when I’m struggling with a new theme or technique I’m exploring, I can look back to what I was thinking about on a certain day in my notebook and jog my memory for those additional details that can give my story life.  Having this ability invites me in turn to stay present with the rest of my everyday surroundings.

Likewise, I can look back on a particular theme I was riffing on and see where I had difficulties.  I’d say this ability helps us as developing writers recognize what we need – or want – to work on.  For instance, during an assignment for class – thanks to a notebook entry – realized that I had a stark lack of dialogue in previous assignments.  With that recognition in mind I listened to the people around me for a few days.  Carefully, I noted that subtle interactions and plays on words taking place around me for a few days.  The result:  my story contained a substantial increase in dialogue that exhibited tension between the two characters.  I was able to show rather than tell the tension.

In addition to noting and recording life, my current notebook practice demands that at the ends of each day – or more often, as creativity commands – I take a few minutes to transcribe my notes onto the back of an entry.  (Despite my newfound aversion to notes, it is not always feasible to lug around a clunky notebook).

I’ve found that when I transcribe my notes when convenient there are immediately two huge benefits.  First, transcribing my notes allows me to brainstorm ideas, or abandon or revive a particular idea.  Or secondly, if I can develop a story line adequately, at least my notes are less cryptic.  These better notes help me for the time when I do feel like I can do something with an idea.

Thanks to Notebook Know-How: Strategies for the Writer’s Notebook, by Aimee Buckner, I have adopted three simple, but very effective techniques for developing stories/articles from my notebook entries: making lists and writing about an item on one of them; lifting lines from a previous entry; and, looking for common thread that links an entry or two.

A list can be on any topic you want and any number of items.  On one of my lists (“The Top 10 Best Things That Happened to Me”) is the entry “exploring the city while skipping school.”  In a later entry I then wrote for about fifteen to twenty minutes on the general theme.

The result easily spanned 500 words.  This is a great way to spin a vivid narrative filled with the much-needed human element.

Another great technique I enjoyed using is to review my notebook entries and lift a line out of one of them.  Then in a new entry I’ll write until I have a good, lengthy piece.  The resulting piece doesn’t necessarily have to contain the pilfered line, in fact it can be taken out entirely.  It’s just nice to have a starting point.  For those of us that need a warm-up, this is a great exercise to get those creative juices flowing.

The last method I use is to review my entries, looking for a common thread or element that may link an entry with two or three others.  This is usually an indication that a particular problem is subconsciously manifesting itself in my notebook.  In other words, I now have a problem to explore.  For example, several of my entries have revolved around a couple of failed relationships.  When I recognized this I realized that those relationships had some communication issues that could be explored in an article.

Since this recognition, I’ve developed a few good slants for a small number of articles that are filled with solid, real-life examples.  Imagine that, and it’s all thanks to my notebook.

Finally, there is the benefit of just having a place to file all of those clippings and ideas that we don’t know what to do with yet.

A favorite activity of mine is to jot down some what – ifs on an item I saw in the paper, on television, or anywhere else that may have caught my attention.  Sometimes I’ll strike a chord and beauty will sing on the page.  Other times these experiments will fail, but that is the joy we all seek as writers.

I hope this inspires you to look at a notebook in a new light.  As writers we should all look towards improving our craft – improving on more than just our style.  I’ve learned that we need to also remember to include the human element in our writing.  One of the ways we can do that is by staying present and continually observing the human interactions going on all around us.  Also by paying attention to our own entries we can further our craft by developing stories/articles that have some basis in life.

Using the methods discussed here we can spin great narrative from real life simply by using our eyes, ears, and notebooks.  By using our notebooks we can finally declare Death to the Scraps!  And finally – if you’re at all like me – get rid of those pesky, cryptic notes that creep their way into our pockets.

Sherlock Holmes and the Patchwork Man

I called upon my friend, Mr. Holmes, one morning in his flat located at 221-B Baker Street. There, I found him quite engrossed in performing one of his violin recitals. His audience was a tall man of above average height, pale patchwork skin,  oddly mismatched limbs, and he was wearing rough, hand-sewn clothing, judging by the coarse threads and jagged lines of the hems and seams. The man, if such an abomination could be addressed as such, was performing a dance, awkward in choreography, twirling himself and lifting his hands to the heavens in a manner quite consistent with an orchestra conductor, humming along in an off key rendition of the waltz Mr. Holmes was performing.

It had been a blustery day outside so I took a seat next to the warm hearth and patiently waited for my friend to finish the carefully and precisely metered waltz he was in the midst of.

Perhaps five minutes had expired before Sherlock Holmes’s bow drew slowly across the strings of his violin, marking the end of his recital. At once, his audience gave a final twirl and fell into a high-backed chair opposite myself, while the sustained note Holmes was holding faded into the crackle of the now waning fire.

“Ah, yes, my dear friend Watson. I am pleased that you have chosen this time of morning to call upon my quarters. My friend and I were quite engaged in a slight break from our conversation in regard to a most vexing conundrum he has presented me with,” said Holmes.

“Ungh,” groaned our guest.

“Oh yes, it seems that my friend can only communicate via grunting, moaning, and humming. We have worked out a most remarkable system that has given seed to a lively conversation,” continued Holmes.

“Ungh,” the man grunted.

“That, Dr. Watson is a confirmation,” said Holmes, taking a moment to not so gently place his instrument back into its case.

At once, I was intensely puzzled and intrigued by what my dear friend seemed to be proposing. “Surely you do not mean to imply that you are in the employ of this gentleman?”

“Aanh,” The patchwork man protested, half rising from the seat he had taken.

“Now, now,” said Holmes, easing his visitor back into his seat with a peacefully raised hand. “This is my nearest and dearest friend. I assure you, his brief indiscretion is indeed only brief. Please allow me to inform him of the fantastical task our discourse has outlined.”

Visibly relieved, the patchwork man gave me a final grunt and fell back into his chair again, humming to himself.

Now I have been faithfully at Mr. Holmes’s side for a great number of adventures, but never one presented by such as that before my eyes. I was in utter amazement. For it is without fail that the most puzzling and strange cases seem to fall into the consult of my dearest friend. However, in all of our years of companionship, this was by leaps and bounds the most curious of the lot. I could not wait for Sherlock Holmes to explain away the veil of puzzlement that had descended upon me.

“Now Watson, my friend has traveled a considerable distance to consult with me in regard to a matter of great import.”

“Ungh.”

“Well, do fill me in Holmes, the suspense is killing me,” said I.

“It seems that our friend has wandered through the metropolis to impress upon me to undertake his cause. It appears, as you know doubt have surmised, that our friend has been patched together from a number of sources into a somewhat grotesque amalgamation of mismatched limbs and internal organs. His previous memories however do not exist in his present state, as he no longer possesses the lucid faculties he by default once had. He does however possess a profound appreciation for violin and dance.

“Yes. that is all quite clear,” said I. “Please, continue.”

“This gentleman, while not being able to recall his previous life, or lives if you prefer, has, in the past, contemplated his existence and would like me to reconnoiter the sources of his parts to their original owners, so to speak, to ensure that none of his parts were ill-gotten.”

“Ungh,” the patchwork man grunted, somewhat enthusiastically.

“And you discovered all this using his grunts?” I asked, quite skeptical of the answer Mr. Holmes was to provide.

“It was merely a matter of deduction Watson. Any man who deems it necessary to venture into the night under the cold weather we’ve had of late would, as a matter of course, have an inexplicable burden weighing heavily upon the mind. Upon my friend’s arrival, I could no doubt see the patchwork construction of his frame and arrived at the conclusion that he must have a question as to his source, or sources, as it were. It really was quite a fortuitous accident that I happened upon his intense and remarkable infatuation with music. When he arrived, I was tuning my violin and had absentmindedly placed the instrument into the crook of my arm.  His guttural expressions, combined with an accurate pantomime of a violin player, guided me to his wish to hear me play. Since then, our discourse has been interspersed with a song here and there. It appears that he much prefers the metered waltzes, as opposed to the more lively sonatas.”

“Indeed,” said I, amazed and dumbfounded at the deductive prowess of my friend.

“Some two hours ago, my friend gesticulated to his pocket in which had been secreted a diary. The name on the cover is quite an ineligible now, it has been exposed to a number of elements that have compromised the quality of the ink and paper. The diary contained a vast number of notes and references in a doctor’s scrawl—how you can decipher one another’s writing is thoroughly beyond my reasoning—which is somewhat legible in places, especially where names and places are concerned.”

As was his custom, Mr. Holmes took up his pipe and confined himself to a high wing-back chair, and lit it with a flourish.

“My dear Watson, I know that you have the same affinity for the bizarre as I, so long as it is outside the realm of ordinary conventions and quite apart from humdrum everyday life.”

“That is quite true Holmes, I much prefer the considerable task I have undertaken to annotate your cases, they certainly provide the most startling glimpse into strange goings-on that I find most satisfying.” I looked across to our current visitor, who was in the midst of humming along, quite oblivious to our dialogue.

“Might you be available Watson? Would your patients get along without you for a while?”

“You know I wouldn’t be able to say no Holmes, this may prove to be one of the most compelling subjects on which you have consulted.”

“Well then, let us meditate until nightfall. That way it will prove easier to disguise our friend.”

With that, Holmes resumed his playing.

While Holmes was entertaining our visitor, I began the necessary preparations for his daily dose of cocaine. Upon his last note, I called him over to give him his infusion.

Holmes recommenced his playing and I set about to apply my own powers of reasoning in deciphering the text contained within the diary the patchwork man had provided. It was indeed a doctor’s journal, of that I was quite certain. From what I could glean, the good doctor had pieced the man together from parts of deceased individuals. The doctor had catalogued a most detailed list into rows and columns which indicated sources for a great number of the man’s organs. There was however, a slight anomaly in the list: under the column designated for the heart there was a somewhat cryptic notation “DCD NSF.” There was no further notation or any indication of its meaning, only the name on the entry gave any clue as to the source: Kaleb Ringlets.

“I say Holmes,” said I, motioning my dear friend over. When Holmes looked over my shoulder at the macabre table, I indicated the entry with my hand. “There is quite a perplexing entry here, a Mr. Kaleb Ringlets is the—or, was, as it were, the owner of our friend’s heart.”

“Indeed Watson, it seems the entire tableau is laid out in a prudishly careful manner I find difficult to fathom was created by the same hand.”

“What do you make of this entry for his heart though, ‘D-C-D N-S-F.’ Could that be a type of code Holmes?”

Holmes rose up to his full height, “It is a notation I’m not familiar with.” He let out a brief sigh and plucked a string on his instrument. “It seems most curious, Watson.”

As was Holmes’s custom he lapsed into a meditative state, slowly walking about in ever widening circles. I know he was thoroughly confounded by the queer notation and its myriad possibilities. I looked across to the patchwork visitor who was still humming along to himself.

It was now late in the day and I could tell the puzzle had posed a considerable hurdle for Holmes to encounter. For hours he had done nothing but walk about in his meditative state, absentmindedly plucking the strings of his violin. The patchwork man and I passed the time exploring the limits of his conversational abilities by the fire when Holmes uttered, “Watson, do be a good fellow and summon the messenger boy. I dare say that I need a little help from that contemptible buffoon Lestrade.”

Lestrade, the ‘contemptible buffoon’ was the local chief of detectives at Scotland Yard. Our adventures had had a number of notes so fortuitous intersections with those of the local police and Holmes had developed an extreme dissatisfaction with their methods, which is the reason I was stupefied by my friends need for his assistance.

“I shall do so immediately, Holmes.”

Forthwith, I went out to the street. The boy whom usually carried Holmes’s messages was standing behind a carefully dressed gentleman, the man’s string from his coin purse poised between his fingers. I walked up behind him slowly, determined to thwart his attempt at thievery without losing the service of our loyal messenger boy. A well-timed hand on the boys shoulder startled him enough to cause him to drop the purse string as the man walked off.

“Come boy, I need you to summon Lestrade from over at Scotland Yard. I shall give you your customary two bits upon your return.”

Exasperated no doubt at my thwarting his attempt, the scofflaw replied, “Sure thing, guv, only it’s ‘otta be four bits, ‘sidering you made me miss a good score.”

“I shan’t give you more than three, now go. Make haste, boy.”

Upon my return to Holmes’s quarters I was surprised to see that our guest had disappeared. “Before you go about worrying Watson, I’ve escorted our friend to my private study. I would think it unfashionable to have that twit, Lestrade, stumble upon our guest. Even he couldn’t allow such a detail to escape his notice, and our friend’s presence would border on the unexplainable.”

“Quite so, Holmes. I must concur.”

It wasn’t a quarter of an hour before Lestrade and our messenger boy came calling. I gave the lad his three bits and sent them along.

“To what do I owe your call, Mr. Holmes? ‘Tis not often we are consulted by your sort,” said Lestrade after warming his hands by the fire and taking the seat that the patchwork man had been in.

“No pleasantries this time, Lestrade?” asked Holmes.

“It’s been quite a busy day. It seems your nemesis, Moriarty, is up to his old tricks again. He’s been implicated in a new plot to steal the Crown Jewels and replace them with a set of cleverly disguised fakes. We’re quite lucky to have discovered the plot, as the thief contracted to do the job fumbled the replacements and dropped the scepter in front of the palace guard on his way in.”

“Discovered, humph. Sounds more like stumbled blindly into…. How was Professor Moriarty connected?” asked Holmes.

“Well, as you know, Holmes, only Moriarty has had the jewels in his possession long enough to actually get a detailed enough description to have such a set of fakes constructed. So his connection to the matter is still supposition on our part, but we’re confident he’ll rear his ugly head once the crook is discovered to not make it back to the hideout,” Lestrade finished.

“I’m sorry that I cannot be of assistance on those matters, I have a prior engagement that should keep me quite dispatched for the next day or two,” Holmes declined Lestrade’s thinly veiled request for assistance. “At any rate, Lestrade, it seems like you have got the matter sufficiently summed up. Although, I would keep watch over the thief. Knowing Moriarty, he would no doubt make an attempt on his life. I’m sure such fakes as you describe cannot be gotten cheaply.”

“Aye, Holmes we already procured a comfortable cell for the crook at a local precinct wholly separate from the Tombs,” said Lestrade.

“Now onto more pressing matters, eh? Do you have any knowledge of any attacks in the last, say, three years, that were under mysterious circumstances and the victim was missing any number of organs?” asked Holmes.

“That sort of case, is it? Let me think for a moment,” said Lestrade. After some minutes, he continued, “It seems there was an attack of the sort you describe in Bristol. I don’t believe it ever made the papers here in London. But the scene did make quite an impact on that town’s populace. For a few weeks after, not a soul could be found outdoors after nightfall. The whole town believed a wolf was on the prowl. Hunting parties were formed and the whole lot. Nothing ever came of the matter, as I can recall. However the bloke’s heart was ripped out of his chest and he was left to bleed out.”

Holmes thought for a moment. “That sounds like it may prove promising. Did you say Bristol?”

“Aye. The town returned to normal and there haven’t been any further attacks,” said Lestrade.

“Yes, yes. Of course,” said Holmes in an off-hand manner. “That must be the key.”

“I take it your engagement intersects with this town, Holmes?” asked Lestrade.

“I believe it may, detective,” replied Holmes. “Now, if you will, take your leave. I must make a number of preparations for our impending departure.”

“So pleased the Yard could be of service,” said Lestrade in a tone that was lost on Holmes.

“Pray tell, Holmes, what weighs so heavily upon your mind?” I asked after Lestrade made his exit.

Holmes took a moment to respond, “I believe the answer to our enquiry on this matter will present itself on our arrival in Bristol, Watson. For the time being, will you locate a hansom we could rent for three days? It should not be necessary for the driver to accompany us, I think.”

“Sure thing, Holmes. I believe I saw one on the street earlier,” said I, turning to exit.

On the street, I located the driver of the hansom I had seen earlier and contracted with him the rental of his cab. He was a bit hesitant of course. However, he warmed up to the idea for half a pound per day, plus care and feeding of the horses. I was not entirely certain of what lay before us, but I was intrigued and anxious to begin.

Upon my arrival back at 221-B Baker St., Holmes and the patchwork man were on the stoop, waiting for me. Bags at their sides. Holmes assisted the patchwork man into the cab while I placed Holmes’s bag into the boot.

Holmes and I drove the team all night. During the day, the road to Bristol is only five hours ride. However, at night, it is quite a different story. The dense cloud cover made it impossible to gauge the passage of time. The single candle lanterns that flank the driver seat were not of much help. At times, only the clop-clop-clop of the horses’ shoes and a brief flicker of a horse’s tail give any indication anything was in front of us.

I could tell Holmes was deep in thought. In the seat next to me, steady streams of smoke teased my nostrils; but not a word was uttered until it was time to exchange the reins for a chance of shut eye.

“Holmes, I believe I’ll catch a nap, would you mind driving the rest of the way?” asked I.

“Not at all, Watson. I’m sure this has been quite a long day for you, old boy. Pass me the reins and get your rest.”

Early the next morning, I was awakened when our hansom came to a stop at the local constablery.

“I’ll be but a minute, old boy,” said Holmes as he handed over the reins. “I need a bit of information from the good fellows inside before we continue.”

Holmes hopped down and darted into the office. He emerged several minutes later, “Ha, Watson, we’ve encountered a stroke of luck. It seems the cemetery where the bloke was buried is just around the bend. Although it seems there’s a slight discrepancy, these blokes have never heard of a Kaleb Ringlets,” said Holmes, as he climbed up into the cab.

I drove the cab in the direction Holmes indicated, to where we encountered an ornately fenced-in cemetery. Ivy crept along the top of the fence, snaking into every nook and cranny, covering the fence entirely. In several places the fence peeked out from its blanket of waving, rustling leaves. The air was gritty—no doubt from the dust kicked up from the hooves of our horses. Once the dust began to settle, I detected a crisp yet briny quality to the air, “Are we near the coast, Holmes?”

“I believe the cemetery is set on a cliff that overlooks the bay,” said Holmes. “The ocean should be just on the other side of here. Come now, old boy. Let us attempt to resolve this whole sordid matter.”

“Indeed, Holmes,” said I.

Holmes and I then both proceeded to the passenger compartment to help the patchwork man down.

“Urnngh,” the patchwork man groaned as he stretched out his limbs once on the ground.

“There you are, chap,” said Holmes. “Quite a bit of a ride, eh?”

“Ungh!”

“Well, let us proceed. I believe we shall have our answer shortly,” said Holmes.

It was still too early for the caretaker to be present, so it looked as if we would be on our own to locate the plot that contained Kaleb Ringlets. Altogether we walked the paths in the cemetery for over two hours. We encountered a great many plots, however none that belonged to any Ringlets’s.

Just then, a bloodcurdling scream emanated from what sounded like the other end of the cemetery. Holmes and I both looked to each other, then to the patchwork man, who was nowhere to be found.

“Let’s go, Watson,” said Holmes. He must’ve surmised—as I did—that the patchwork man had wandered off and encountered one of the local citizens. Together we ran in the direction from which the scream had come.

Behind a small grove of trees we discovered the patchwork man. He was poised over the supine form of a young woman in a small clearing that had previously escaped our notice. He had the young woman’s head cradled in his lap and was softly stroking her hair and face. On our arrival, he looked up at us. In a thickly accented and gravelly voice he stated, “Me heard crying.”

Needless to say, Holmes and I were dumbfounded. Once I regained my faculties I asked him, “I thought you couldn’t speak?”

In that same gravelly voice he replied, “it is much hard for me to speak. Takes much power. Me heard crying, come to look. Me found her.”

Just then Holmes interjected, “Watson, since you’re a doctor, check on the young lady. It appears as if she hit her head.” He was busy inspecting one of the grave markers that lay behind the young woman.

I checked on the young woman. She had apparently hit her head. No doubt when she fainted. There was a small bruise on her left temple that had a slight abrasion that trickled blood. “This shouldn’t take long to staunch, Holmes. I shall need my bag from the cab. I’ll be back in just a minute or two,” I told Holmes, and ran back to where we parked our hansom.

Upon my return the woman was just coming to. “Now just a minute young lady,” I told her. “You’ve got a nasty bump on your noggin.”

“Uh, I, uh, had a terrible fright,” said the woman, raising her hand to where she bumped her head. “I saw the most horrific thing.”

“Now, now,” I told her. “Can you tell me your name?”

“Yes, it’s Delilah. Delilah Blake.” Then she asked, “Am I still in the cemetery?”

“Yes, my friends and I were looking for a specific plot when we heard you scream,” I told her, indicating Holmes and the patchwork man with a sweep of my arm.

Upon seeing him again, Miss Blake screamed and tried to get up to run. Holmes rushed over to help me restrain her.

“No, no! Get him away from me!” she yelled, struggling against mine and Holmes’s grips.

“Miss Blake, stop resisting these are my friends.”

She slumped into Holmes’s arms, “I suppose, it’s no use trying anymore,” she said. “Just keep that monster away from me,” indicating the patchwork man.

“Can you tell us why are you here so early?” asked Holmes.

“Once a week, I stop to mourn at my brother’s grave just over there,” she replied, indicating a small grave marker with her hand. Holmes went over to the marker to inspect the name. “But why are you all here?” she asked, looking again at Holmes and myself, but not at the patchwork man.

“We’ve come to visit a distant relative’s grave, said Holmes. “Tell me, when did your brother die?”

“Not more than six months ago, now,” Miss Blake replied. “He was killed by a pack of wolves.”

“And his name?” asked Holmes.

“Sterling. But what has that to do with your business here,” asked Miss Blake.

“Eureka, Watson!” exclaimed Holmes, ignoring Miss Blake’s enquiry. “I believe I have a solution to our mystery.” To Miss Blake, he stated, “Miss Blake it seems that your brother was not killed by a pack of wolves but by an overzealous lunatic bent on bringing his creation to life.”

“To what creation are you referring, Holmes?” asked I, taking a glance at the patchwork man. “Surely you do not mean our friend here….”

“Indeed I do, Watson,” replied Holmes.

“The notion struck me when we encountered the notation ‘D-C-D N-S-F’ in the diary that our friend had with him on his arrival. Our discoveries of this morning have crystallized that notation’s meaning; which can only indicate that a deceased heart was insufficient and this doctor had to appropriate a living heart for his experiment. The name on the grave marker that Miss Blake was visiting has the inscription Sterling Blake, which I suspect is the plain text meaning behind Kaleb Ringlets. It’s a simple transpositional cipher, Watson, a relatively old form of cryptography that requires the sender of a secret to encipher the plain text by way of an anagram; so that we get two entirely different meanings from the same letters.”

“Well Holmes, it seems you’ve done it again,” said I, turning to look at our friend. However, the patchwork man was not standing where he was only moments ago. I turned about in a circle looking for him. Finally, my eyes located his form walking away from us towards the cliff face. “No!” I yelled.

“No, Watson,” said Holmes. “It’s better this way.”

Together we watched as the patchwork man lumbered toward the edge of the cliff. Putting it all together, Miss Blake realized that her brother’s heart was about to walk off the cliff. She started after him, “Wait!”

I reached out to take hold of her, “Let him go, Miss Blake. That’s not your brother, or any part of him anymore.”

She slumped against my outstretched arms, “But….” Suddenly, with a strength that did not seem her own, she ripped her self for my grasp and began running to the cliff’s edge. Holmes and I gave chase.

When we arrived at the edge of the cliff Miss Blake, fleet of foot as she was, was standing there, looking down at the rocks below. No sign of the patchwork man could be seen.

I expect his body, with its sewn together construction, shattered, and was dismembered on impact with the rocks, for not a trace of him was left. All that remained was the diary that he had dropped in the leaves, it’s gold-lettered spine, faded by wear, reflected the morning sun. The spine read, “Frankenstein.”

Objectivity and Subjectivity

 

Earlier today, in a Facebook page dedicated to photography in Minnesota, I made this comment:

“No offense meant, of course….

But, why don’t you go explore the area…? Without more information about what you’re shooting, ie: Models, Urban Exploration, birds, etc. this is a hard question to answer….

Scouting locations is part of a tog’s work, why shoot where/what everybody else has…? There truly is beauty in everything in Minnesota. You just have to apply your own photographic vision to bring it out. Photographers work scenes to find their angles.

*sucks that I have to say this, but this comment is not meant as snark. So, take it for what it is, solid advice”

The poster was looking for a suggested location to shoot pictures.

To me, that is a signal of laziness. While some aspects of asking such a question on social media can have a plus-side, for instance camaraderie, bonding, and the like. This post was different. There was no interaction from the OP on the post!

So, I wrote this to the page, and want to share it here:

I understand, some of us are busy. But, as I said there, the footwork of being a tog should never be left undone. I implore you, as a photographer, a student of the art, and as a human being: GET OUT AND EXPLORE!

So, to illustrate what I mean about exploring a location, to find the angles that you are looking for as a photographer, I decided to throw up these edits.

True, not all of these images are of the type many of us ARE looking for–I was fulfilling the parameters of an assignment–when shooting models, urban exploration, or what have you, but they are illustrative of the point.

This exercise, from a digital photography class was primarily about Objectivity and Subjectivity. The exercise was designed by my instructor for us to “work a scene,” to find angles in a particular location that are meant to evoke (provoke?) a reaction. To find a location and photograph it from an objective standpoint (discovery) to the subjective (influenced by personal taste).

In my urban explorations, I find a TON of scenes just like this, and I work the angles.

Review of John Harte Photo

The blog I’ll be reviewing may be found here: John Harte Photo.

John Harte Photo is a self styled blog built using WordPress’s (I’m assuming) free WYSIWYG editor, titled: “You can’t have my job, but I’ll tell you a story”–even the page’s title is intriguing. The blog is about a photojournalist’s life in “one hell of a news town” and the trials and tribulations of those items that are deemed newsworthy: killer bees, poisoned watermelons, and the more than occasional murder trial. From the outset, my curiosity was piqued. I couldn’t wait to jump in and look through the blog’s content.

John Harte Photo uses a simple gray background and simple serif-based font that work well together. These are used to equal effect to lend the site an air of authenticity. True, in most cases, the serif-based fonts are a bit tiring on the eyes, but this site uses a larger, easier to read, font size. This choice ameliorates the fatiguing effect that can be easily overlooked by those that are not conscious of the impact of serif based fonts.

As to the site’s content: the site contains a listing  that is not in any chronological order; and in most cases, that would irk me–but the lack of chronological order lends the site a feeling of meandering through the memories of a photojournalist whom has seen a lot. Being a photographer, this makes complete sense to me; we see images, and reactions. Often while searching my own memory, I try to find an image associated with the event/memory I wish to recall. Although, this may not make sense to those whom are visually-endowed.

Overall, I would say this is a successful blog. The design choices are simple, and attentive to the needs of the viewer in re: font choice and size, as well as the feed itself. The site contains two pages. A Home page and an About The Project page. There’s even an interactive calendar to search for blog posts–something I found quite useful.

An unsuccessful blog…?

The blog I will be reviewing may be found here: maudnewton.com.

The site maudnewton.com is a self-styled blog containing “Occasional literary links, amusements, culture, politics, and rants,” as well as links to the site author’s published works, and twitter feed. At the outset, the site is playful and contains some nice features: the twitter feed and the external links to published works. However, some of the “playfulness” is ill thought and a bit distracting. I did not like the blog designer’s choice as to page header. The page uses a header that includes cut outs of letters forming the page’s title/header. This is a fitting example of a header for a writer–but can come of as a bit psychopathic, as in those psychopaths whom comprise letters of ransom made of letters cut out of magazines or newspapers.

What does work for the site, is that the content is easily navigable, the color scheme is mostly unified–although a bit errant in the “psycho-header”–and the font choice is pleasing to the eye. On the right of the page is the author Maud Newton’s (I’m assuming) twitter feed. She is active on Twitter and has some nice insights. The remainder of the page is comprised of links to, as well as a feed, of her published works. The overall color scheme is black, red, and white. Three colors I find pleasing, but compounds the feeling I’ve stated previous in re: the “psycho-header.” Also, the font choice is a sans-serif font, and is easily read.

Overall, I would say the blog is okay, but could use a bit of thought, or better site management in terms of layout and design.

 

 

 

WordPress

I found this particular assignment to be relatively easy. I have prior experience with another WYSIWYG editor–specifically, Google Sites. I have also used Google Sheets to set up documents that may be distributed by people through the built-in functions that Google offers.  So the jump was not too far to come to WordPress and play around.

I do like the fact that the user interface is quite simple and easy to use. The menu is very easy to navigate and gives some flexibility–but not total. Which brings me to my next point, I would prefer an interface that would give more items for customization than the basics that WordPress does offer. I also disliked the general feeling of the interface. The interface seems to offer just a very rudimentary amount of customization options. Is this ALL that WordPress offers….?

What I find limiting the number of available free options. I feel as if what I can do will often differ drastically from what I want to do. I would like to be able to maybe upload a different image for the backgrounds of my blog posts. Or be able to use a different solid color other than the three WordPress offers: Red, Green, and Purple. The ability to use tinting and/or shading options would be nice. Or even a simple color picker tool. Yet these things seem to be absent from the editor supplied by WordPress.

Overall, I would suggest WordPress to those whom are already strapped for time, and want to get up and running with an online presence, but not for those whom want more control.