Monthly Archives: January 2016

Week 3: Tell us a Story

This week was filled with what I would consider to be my strength out of our semester’s media: writing. I’ve always loved writing stories, and I enjoy writing about other stories, too. Picking apart the meanings of other people’s writings is both a pastime and a part-time job for me, so this week was a ton of fun for me.

For starters, I read and wrote about two of the stories we needed to read, comparing their similarities and differences. Then, according to Vonnegut’s plotline system, I drew out the line for one of the stories. Finally, I made a character to help out with this semester’s work: a man who goes by the name of Danny Keys. I think we’ll work well together.

Out of the list of assignments required of us for this week, I decided to write a letter to my younger self. I then chose a few other prompts to get the requisite six stars for the week. The first one involved writing a bad ending for a Choose Your Adventure narrative, which amounted to two stars. The second was a misleading TV Guide blurb about a movie, which was two and a half stars. The final one was a background story for my new character, Danny Keys. That final assignment gave me three stars, allowing my total to be seven and a half stars. I really enjoyed doing all of these writing assignments, even though a couple wound up being rushed near the end.

I reorganized my menu for the website, making it easier to shuffle through my posts and assignments. I think it looks pretty good so far, but I’ll be sure to add more tabs with whatever extra content goes up.

Finally, my daily creates consisted of cowboy caution signs, poems, and old Western sayings, all of which were fun learning experiences in their own right. I really like making GIFs.

I can’t wait to see what next week brings down the trail!

A Southern Key

I’ve never seen bluer skies than when I went south to Virginia. As soon as I stepped off the train into that hot summer evening, I saw a matted jewel surrounding this earth, glorious and bright, just short of glimmering. Even as we entered the car and even our hotel, I couldn’t stop gazing at it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a shade of blue that brilliant before in my life. And as the sun receded into the horizon, the colors only blossomed into still more incredible shades and hues. I admit, I was smitten.

In the dark, my concert mates and I spent an awfully long time drinking expensive variations of wines that I couldn’t name if I wanted to. I prefer a heartier drink myself, but of course we didn’t venture to find anything less than the forty dollar bottles offered to us by the richest hotel in the state. I drank a bit, sitting alone and gazing at the quiet, mute sky. I wondered what other colors painted the skies of the South.

One of my dear friends Ethan Caldwell, a violinist, sat beside me after he noticed my solitude. “More wine?” He offered the bottle to me, grinning. “This one came off of Thomas Jefferson’s own Monticello. Can you believe that? A drink practically from our founding fathers!”

I did my best to look like I had more interest in the wine than I actually did, taking the bottle and looking idly at the label. “Really?” I asked, but probably not in the right tone of pure wonder.

Ethan took the bottle back and poured some into my still-half-full glass. “Yes, really. It’s an excellent quality. Smell it – you’re practically sitting beside Jefferson, accompanying his own violin when you do.”

The wine smelled exactly like what I find other wines to smell like. Fruity, bitter, watery. “Did Jefferson play the violin?” I asked, looking at him sideways as I took a sip. It tasted like it smelled.

“Every self-respecting gentleman played the violin back then,” he replied, waving off the question as though it were a trivial matter. “Anyway, come and join us at the table. You look miserable.”

I don’t like to argue, and I was especially not in the mood for it just then. The wine was not helping, either; I admit I like to get more drunk with less of a headache the day before a show. So I joined them around the tables as they chatted and laughed and drank. After a few minutes of that, I abandoned my drink in favor of setting myself at the grand piano in the restaurant. It was beautiful, old, just a bit dusty and out of tune. Without a word I started playing a few simple tunes to warm up. The others continued their banter, paying no mind.

After a few minutes, I was halfway through one of our pieces. “Ethan,” I called, gesturing for him to come over and listen. He made his way around the table and leaned against the piano, grinning. He knew what I was up to. “Listen to this. I’ve been practicing something new—“

“A new trick?” he asked, still with that knowing grin.

“Just listen.” I began playing, taking one of my pieces and cutting its timing a bit. I liked the feel of a quicker beat, one that went a bit against the grain for a concert pianist. Once I finished, I paused and looked at him. “What do you think?”

He took a thoughtful gulp of his drink. “I think,” he started finally, “if you played like that tomorrow then we’d be chased out of town before you could finish.”

“It’s just a small change. It sounds more modern, don’t you think?” I protested.

“Our itinerary has classics, Daniel, not silly jives. People want to listen to a concert, not get up and dance around to it.”

I didn’t argue any further. He was right, after all; no one who would step into our concert hall tomorrow evening would want to hear anything that they haven’t already heard. That would be blasphemous, surely.

*          *          *

The next night, after our concert was a roaring success, after it moved the crowd in ways that were unimaginable, I went out alone to find a bar or something, somewhere to appreciate a bit of peace. The sky was alight with hues of pink and orange, even as the sun had ducked away. I wandered until it was nearly dark and I found a small bar hidden away in the middle of the street. Inside were men laughing and drinking and singing – working men who had just finished a long day. At the piano sat a stout, older man, with sleeves rolled up and a hat set askew, hammering away at the keys in a manner I didn’t think was possible.

I bought a drink and watched the bar pianist play away. He had so much energy, so much style. I couldn’t believe it sounded any better than the discordant smashing of keys, with the way his hands moved. He didn’t miss a beat, and as soon as he finished one song someone called for him to play another, and no matter what the request was, he was at it again, giving them what they wanted to hear. Even if it was the same song four times in a row.

After a while I made my way over to the piano, eventually leaning against it a bit. The pianist was taking a break, drinking a beer that someone had bought for him. He smiled and winked at me. “You’ve been real stuck in this piano,” he said with a low, gravelly voice. “You play yourself?”

“Yes, sir,” I replied, not really sure what to say. After hearing that man play, I felt like I was six again, hearing my teacher explain to me what the different chords were for the first time.

He slid to one side of the bench and gestured for me to join him, smiling with the enthusiasm and kindness of a grandfather. Hesitantly, I joined him, setting my drink on top of the worn out little piano. He took another long drink and watched me expectantly. “Go ahead and play a tune for us, son,” he prompted gently.

I shifted uncomfortably. “I’m afraid I only know classical tunes,” I murmured. “Doesn’t seem like the kind of music any of you folks would care to hear.”

“Well, what’s say I accompany you, then?” he offered, beaming with a look I couldn’t possibly describe, though I suppose something similar to encouragement was in his eyes.

Again, I hesitated. I’d been playing all evening for a crowd of thousands, yet I felt like I knew nothing, couldn’t get a tune out if you tried to choke it out of me. But I didn’t want to disappoint this man. I sat up and placed my hands on the keys. “Uh, do you know Pachabel’s Canon in D?” I asked, though I felt foolish doing so.

He shrugged and smiled. “Go ahead,” he replied, settling on the keys further down the board.

I began playing, and not four bars in he joined me with a ragtime accompaniment that sounded like he’d known the song backwards and forwards. Every note I hit had another sound beneath it, one that my instincts said would ruin such a classic, but which sounded too good to resist enjoying. I hadn’t enjoyed playing music that much since I’d played the piece for the first time. Once it was over, I just looked at the man in awe.

Someone shouted the name of a song I’d never heard of before. The pianist started on it immediately and that group of men cheered for it.

“How long have you been playin’, son?” he asked me.

“Oh, since I was six,” I replied timidly. Didn’t feel like much of an accomplishment next to this guy. “What about you?”

“I can’t remember not playing,” he said with a grin of pure pride. “We had an old keyboard like this one in my home. The only one in the neighborhood. I played for the church and here and there once I got old enough.”

“What are you doing in a place like this, if you have so much experience?” It sounded rude, putting it out there like that, but I couldn’t figure out how this old pianist wasn’t touring Europe with his skill.

He shrugged and smiled. “I took some lessons a while back, probably when I was your age,” he explained slowly, his fingers dancing across the keys, “but I couldn’t deal with all those rules you boys up in the concert hall have. ‘Sides, who would play this poor old thing if every guy like me was working like you do?”

I was baffled. How could someone who played so well be satisfied sitting in a bar like this, playing to a bunch of shouting drunks? Surely he didn’t get paid a fraction of what his skill was worth.

But then, I felt as though I knew exactly what the reason really was. He had what I wanted, what every musician or artist wanted.

“Could- could you possibly show me how to play like that?” I asked, nervous and anxious about his response. “Not right now, of course. But if I –“

“Sure, we could play a little right now,” he replied, moving effortlessly down a couple octaves without interrupting the music for a moment. “No one’s gonna mind a bit more music. Here, just follow my lead.”

I could barely keep track of his hands, let alone follow his lead. There was no sheet music, no guidance whatsoever. “What are you doing, exactly?” My heart was pounding; I couldn’t keep up if I tried. He was everywhere.

“Just listen, son,” he said, once again in that grandfatherly way. “Play along until it feels right and sounds good. It’s all right if you go about it slow.”

I played for hours that night. No guidance, no rules. He would play a song and I would imitate him, counter him, go against his beat. And if it sounded good, he would smile and praise me. If it sounded bad, he would tell me what key to hit instead. All my years of classical training didn’t come close to the amount of music I learned on that piano.

*          *          *

I quit my job after that concert series ended, decided to learn more about the piano on my own. I travelled around the South for a couple of years, meeting the best pianists around, playing with them for a while and then moving on. I didn’t stick around for too long, since being a “damn Yankee” made it hard to find some real work, especially on a piano. I still had a lot to learn.

I went out West after that to see if I could find some new teachers in some other towns. I didn’t expect to go as far as I did, but once I settled into Heatherton I opted to stay for good. I would have liked to learn more from the South than I did before leaving, but I have yet to use another sheet of music to learn a song out here. I’m not the best, but just as long as I get to play it doesn’t matter. I’ve got years to improve.

__________

So here’s the “origin story” of Danny Keys. I took this prompt in order to explore his character more, since he’s still brand new. I thought doing a background story could be a great way to round him out more. Danny is kind of a narrative character, so he doesn’t mind telling the tale himself. He likes to talk about himself.

This story ran a bit long for just background, but I really enjoyed the writing process. I’m a bit of a sucker for narratives, especially when I get to be the character I’m writing about for a brief moment. I didn’t have much time to revise any of its content, since I was in a bit of a rush to get it posted, but hopefully there aren’t any glaring errors.

It’ll be exciting to see where Danny ends up next.

Planet Sabotage?

Tired of the army, a soldier escapes with one of the prisoners and teams up with a warrior and her robot to destroy a planet.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

__________

This prompt was super fun to think about. What would a movie look like if it was only given one sentence of description, and that sentence was horribly misconstrued? Originally, I wanted to make this blurb western-themed, but going for a more recent and widely known film sounded more appealing in the end. After lots of speculation, I decided to go with the latest addition to the Star Wars films, since so many people have seen it and the references would be easier to get. A lot more happened in the movie than a group of misfits going to destroy a planet, but once you remove the context the whole plotline sounds like a terrible idea, which I enjoy quite a bit.

Despite my final blurb being so small, I spent a lot of time making sure it sounded right. I took the time to pick out the right words so it would flow like a brief movie description as opposed to a joke. The exercise here came with a lot of word choice and brevity practice. Making a short joke that sounds entirely serious is a writing task worth spending more than a few minutes on. Hopefully it sounds convincing enough!

Run For It

You manage to sidestep all six shots from Six Shooter Sam and bust out of the saloon doors. Johnny pauses to reload his gun, and you make a break for it across the dusty road. Good thing you didn’t try to shoot, since you’ve just now remembered that you forgot to bring any bullets with you today. The sun is bright in your eyes and it’s hard for you to navigate through the streets. Still, you make your way past some buildings right as more bullets come flying at you. His shots still ring in your ears as you trip over some bar or something, which sends you tumbling to the ground. Before you know it, a horn is roaring at you, the ground rattles, and you shade your eyes to find a rapidly approaching train just feet away from you.

Suddenly you remember that, in fact, you had loaded your gun before leaving the house this morning. If it’s any consolation, you probably would have missed anyway.

__________

I love choose your adventure narratives, so when I found this prompt I definitely didn’t want to pass up the chance of writing my own bit. The prompt only requires you to write a “bad path” ending, but thinking about the rest of the narrative was still necessary and no less challenging. I wanted to make this story western-themed, so of course it’s about a show-down in a saloon. The character you’re playing had just gotten into a squabble with a notorious gunslinger, Six Shooter Sam. Your only options were to either try your hand at shooting at him or try to run. The fun (and mostly frustrating) thing about these kinds of stories is that they often wind up unlikely or absurd, going against what might actually be logical. I mean, why would you try to shoot a gunslinger who is probably quicker than you are? The logical thing to do is run, but perhaps Sam isn’t that great with a gun after all and secretly you should have tried to outshoot him. It’s silly and ridiculous, but that just goes with the theme of the game genre.

It’s Me, You from the Future

Dear Little Lindsey,

At your age, you’ve already been through a lot – parents divorcing, mom going to college, moving across the country three times – and yet, much to my relief, you’ve always kept your head high. Honestly I’m really proud of you for that. People always tell you you’re smart and you try to keep humble about it, and while your choice of friends is infinitely questionable, you keep yourself together nonetheless. You’ve also kept out of the infinitely stressful circle of dating, and for that I owe you practically everything. You and I both know things would have been a hundred times worse if you tried to keep up with any “real” relationship. Stick to your friends and homework and all that.

I’m gonna go ahead and say the exact thing you hear from every other adult: growing up is hard. I know that means absolutely nothing to you right now – after all, you’re just a kid and you don’t really want to worry about all that “growing up” business right now. Besides, you’ve got everything figured out; you’re “mature for your age” and planning on becoming an astronomer or geologist or librarian or something like that. Still, I hate to break it to you, but what you’ll probably end up doing is going to be really, really different from any of those. You’re gonna go to college and you’ll even take some astronomy classes, but science is not for you, kid. A librarian is a little closer to what you’ll be working towards, but honestly it’s not going to be what you think that entails. If I have any career advice for you, it’s to make sure you keep some connections and for God’s sake think about internships.

Right now you’re probably not worried so much about your relationships – and you really shouldn’t be anyway – but consider that not everything is perfect, no matter who your friends are. You might find that some of your closest friends are toxic, maybe not for years from now, but just accept that no one on this planet is worth giving up everything for. Even in your nearer future, the people you think you’ll never lose will eventually find others, or just change in general. Don’t be afraid if you’re lonely. You’ll find some wonderful people down the road. And again, at least you haven’t dated anyone. Just wait until college. Really, trust me on that one.

You’re going to have a lot of weird experiences when you’re older, especially once you’ve turned 18. Some of them are going to be wonderful, others not so much. My heart both flutters and hurts to remember what you will go through in that year alone. Always remember that things change over time. Ideas reshape themselves, pain fades away.

Oh, and don’t get me started on this upcoming presidential election. You won’t believe what happens after President Obama’s second term. Don’t forget to register to vote, alright? It’s important. Like, really important.

Anyway, I hope your homework isn’t bogging you down too much (I’m afraid it gets a lot worse). Here’s to the two of us, going forward in a blaze of whatever happens. Keep at it, little me.

Sincerely,

Your Future Self

__________

This short letter was inspired by the assignment prompt that asks you to write a letter to your younger self. For me, this was a little difficult, since I was a pretty straight-and-narrow kid. I never took too kindly to having adults try to tell me what I need to do in my life. Of course, the fun of this assignment is that it is purely hypothetical and everything I’ve said is something I already know. Little me won’t be able to roll her eyes upon reading this note.

Despite knowing myself pretty well, I had a bit of a hard time coming up with meaningful content to say. While imagining myself at around 13 or 14, I tried to find ways to express ideas in a manner that would get through to me. It took me some time to figure out what was most important to tell myself as well. Would I have cared about whether I got a job in college? Would I want to hear details about my future friends and relationships? How much should I tell me without “ruining it” for myself? Regardless of my thoughts and word choice, I think I would have still been wound up by my own vagueness. But I would understand later on. That’s what growing up is about, right?

After getting my topics sorted out, I had a lot of fun writing this letter. It was strangely calming, a pleasant exchange with a time in my life where I might have been uncomfortable with the very idea of knowing what happens after high school. Each phase of our lives comes with a new set of challenges which often make the trials we have previously faced feel trivial and minor, no matter their importance to us at the time. Revisiting our past struggles with the mentality of having never experienced anything worse helps us see our present as a matter of overcoming the current obstacles that we will later consider just as small and laughable. We grow each day we live, but we should never forget how we have lived each day.

Meet Danny Keys

Well hi, how are you? My name’s Daniel Ellison, although if you ask anyone around here they’ll call me Danny Keys. I’m not real tall or broad, but I can hold my own pretty alright. I’m a pianist, the finest – but maybe not the best – in my good town Heatherton in the lovely state of Nebraska. I’ve played in saloons for years now, I think about ten or twelve. Due to the nature of my work I’m not well known but certainly well heard. In Snake Brush Saloon you’ll hear me play just about anything you can come up with.

I admit I’m not home bred and baked in the hot plains of this great frontier, but I certainly wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. You see, I’m from the northeast, classically trained in what they call up there “art” and what you might know better as “background noise”. ‘Bout twelve years ago, somewhere in Carolina, I left my concert group to explore what real music sounds like. On that soul-searching journey I wound up on a train headed Nowhere and eventually found myself here, playing for those who wouldn’t give you more than a handful of change to hear you play. Somehow I prefer that, though. Ask me, music should be freely heard, not glorified like it is back east. And besides, working in a saloon means no one gives a damn about you missing a chord or getting a little off key, or trying something new now and then.

My boss is a man who looks like he was born to get others drunk, rough-faced but good-natured. He’ll give you the shirt off his back and take not a favor in return, but once he’s serving booze you’ll bet he keeps track of your tab until the day you die. Won’t heckle you for the money, of course, but if you ask him how much you owe him he’ll tell you down to the penny. So long as you’re not leaving town, you can pay him any time. He keeps business like that, even takes favors sometimes to cover the bill. Lord knows how this place is still open.

This isn’t my first bar, saloon, whatever you call it, but it’s certainly my favorite. I worked here and there for a couple of years before wandering into this place. My first time playing this here piano was when I was a customer myself. The old performer had stepped out for a break and I was drunk and cocky enough to slide right on the bench the moment the music stopped. Wasted as I was, I couldn’t distinguish a black key from a white one, but the bartender liked my tune anyhow. So did my drinking mates – they got a kick out of my performance, called me Danny Keys ever since. I woke up the next morning with my tab paid for and a note saying I was now employed at the saloon I could hardly remember leaving.

The old pianist and I took shifts every other day until he wound up in some fight and got himself shot. The owner was shaken up by the poor guy’s death, but not enough to stop this piano from singing for his customers. Since then I’ve been full-time pianist and part-time patron for this dusty old place. Haven’t quite shaken off my Northern side – glad I don’t need to talk much while playing – but I’ve settled in pretty damn well. I certainly plan on sticking around awhile.

Drawing the Line

Vonnegut tells us that our favorite stories start at the lowest end of the Good-/Ill-Fortune scale and end in infinite happiness, just like Cinderella. Naturally, not all stories end like this. Not many of our western stories this week find such an appealing path in the remotest sense, for the West is a harsh place that challenges human nature in all kinds of fashions. The fortune of our chosen stories’ characters depend largely on the theme, ideology, and interpretation of the situation at hand. While Vonnegut’s graph does not necessarily give these variables much room for visualization, it is still a useful tool in showing our own interpretations of the narratives offered to us by their authors.

For this exercise, I chose to map out “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” by Stephen Crane. This story has a bit of a difficult narrative to plot, as the main character, Jack Potter, struggles between a happy moment and a deep anxiety that pervades the happiness. He marries a kind woman while away from his hometown, though he feels it is his town’s right to know who he has married due to his position as the marshal. He feels guilty for not having mentioned the marriage before coming back as a husband to a place in which he is deeply respected. However, he is happy with his new wife, who understands his anxiety and only offers him warm comments and nervous laughter during their trip home. Overall, their mutual company is not filled with as much stress as their minds might feel. In fact, before Potter’s fears surface they are very endearing toward one another. Thus, it may best suit the story to start just above the center of the G-I line, as their marriage alone is a happy one.

As Potter’s anxiety continues, however, he and his new wife are out of place on a Pullman train – something far above their social class. As they sit and speak — and even eat — the people who work on the train mock them as though the newlywed couple were little more than children. They are quietly ridiculed for their lackluster appearance and clear absence of money or prestige, and so their story line dips into the center.

Once they finally arrive in Potter’s town, Yellow Sky, they rush off to his estate in an attempt to avoid running into anyone who will recognize him and question the arrival of the woman. Despite their best efforts, the station-agent sees him and tries to approach them. They run off before getting any closer to the other man, however, which can’t be any better fortune for them.

Meanwhile, a drunken gunslinger is loose, aiming to pick a fight with anyone who will stand up to him. As he wanders the streets, he decides to find the marshal, Potter (although no one in town knows he has come back yet). This foreboding event is clearly wrought with potential misfortune, so as the drunken man, Scratchy Wilson, approaches Potter’s empty house, the latter’s line of fortune dips again.

As the story approaches its conclusion, the line’s motion is up for interpretation by the reader, for the ending is neither conclusively happy nor clearly tragic. Potter and his wife run right into Scratchy Wilson in the street. Scratchy pulls a gun out and challenges Potter to fight. Potter, defenseless and with a thoroughly shocked woman beside him, declares that he has no gun and cannot duel. He even offers Scratchy a free shot to prove it, essentially taunting him. Scratchy doesn’t believe him; he’s the marshal, after all, and therefore always has a gun. The story line has potential to drop as the situation escalates, however I would argue it remains steady up until Potter’s next words, when he is forced to admit that he has no gun because he just got back from San Antonio – with a wife.

With an old Western honor, Scratchy Wilson immediately backs off of the fight, knowing well by now that the marshal is completely defenseless. This relieving situation is clearly a stroke of good fortune, allowing the story line to finally rise to some degree. However, the last man who should have heard first is now the only one to know that Potter got married while away, and while he decides not to shoot, he clearly exhibits disappointment in a man who he and the town deeply respect. With this final expression of what could perhaps be considered failure on Potter’s end, the line takes another dip on the plot – not one so deep, I would argue, that it cancels out their good fortune of Scratchy Wilson not shooting, but certainly a dip that puts them on the lower end of the scale. One could only assume the rest of the town’s reaction once Scratchy Wilson sobers up and laments his encounter with their beloved marshal.

Crane Plot Line

This story does not end happily due to the nature by which Potter’s marriage was revealed. However, other interpretations could give them a neutral – if not better – ending. After all, the new couple did get to the town without open ridicule on the train, and despite their life-threatening encounter with Scratchy Wilson, they made it home without harm. Perhaps after the townspeople discovered Potter’s marriage, they came to accept his independence and opened up to his new wife; they certainly had no qualms with the stranger who hid from Scratchy Wilson in the saloon with them, and they were very forgiving of Scratchy’s behavior, knowing well that he was a good man when sober. Still, that potentially kind reception remains unspoken and unwritten, lying beyond the story’s end. I certainly hope that this sort of scenario is the case for Potter and his wife, but I will hold to the less-than-happy ending that I drew out for this story.

Such narratives are often left open for interpretation, having readers guess what comes before and after. While I don’t see a happy ending for “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky”, someone else might have drawn out a completely different line. One could also interpret the story from another character’s perspective, maybe that of Mrs. Potter or Scratchy Wilson. Did their part of the story end well?

Vonnegut’s graph is a useful tool, but its simplicity is limiting according to how one uses it. Despite the large number of variables, its ability to map and easily interpret the stories it shows make the graph a good means of visually expressing how a reader saw the events and outcome of a story. Perhaps one tale will produce multiple graphs, each one being equally as correct, but the interpretations available only show the story’s ability to adapt to the reader’s perspective. So, while not every narrative an author serves is as clearly cut as Cinderella, it still functions as a thoughtful, well-developed story to its readers.

Power and Prejudice

Lawmen, drunks, women behind men, and bad guys – all of these are common tropes in the western genre. The two stories I chose to read, “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” and “Ice Man”, both had these tropes at the forefront. In the first one, written by Stephen Crane, a town marshal comes home with a bride to find a drunken menace roaming the streets, ready for a gun fight. The second, written by Elmore Leonard, also features a man of the law, only this one happens to be crooked and looking for a fight of his own.

These two stories worked well as alternates of one another, with similar themes but different perspectives and endings. Both had a man of the law coming into town to deal with drunken troublemakers and a woman at their side. However, Crane’s lawman was good and willing to negotiate with a genuine threat in order to prevent harm, whereas Leonard’s lawman only perceived men as drunks to be arrested. In the end, his woman addresses his blatant prejudice – he only arrests them for being Indian – and he willingly owns up to it without a moment of pause or guilt.

While Crane’s story clearly embodies the Old West idea of a late-19th / early 20th century Texas, Leonard’s offers a much more modern take on a similar storyline; the lawman, a federal agent, communicates with a cell phone and the main character’s prize for winning a rodeo consists of four thousand dollars. Despite these centuries of difference, both of the tales told offer the feel of a western, with similar settings and themes. The results are dramatically different, of course. Crane’s version deals with the prejudice of middle class modernity against a small-town, old-fashioned man of high importance within his own world. On the other hand, Leonard’s version deals with prejudice along the racial-ethnic lines, where people of Indian and Mexican background are consistently and knowingly targeted for the sole purpose of removing them from the public, regardless of their success or lawfulness. While the two kinds of prejudice are incredibly different on the surface, both run deep in the western genre.

Class and race/ethnicity are issues that westerns consistently aim to address, even as they are published today. The storytelling potential of this genre gives plenty of room to allow writers and directors to explore the deeper meanings of these social prejudices. The West as a setting is a blank slate, pale and unconcerned with the good guys and the bad guys. Once people come together in this unquestioning field, however, it really is a matter of human nature to determine what occurs next. Perhaps those in power, like the marshal in Crane’s story, are truly lawful and willing to go only as far as they must in order to maintain peace. Or perhaps the powerful come from somewhere more remote, with the harsh prejudice ingrained in their distant cultures, like Leonard’s lawman, only to stir up trouble and attack those who are otherwise accepted by the West.

Such social dynamics show how versatile the western genre truly is. Not every story mandates a cowboy and a gunfight, nor does it end with the good guy winning or walking off into the wilderness to be judged only by Nature itself. There are deeper themes to find in the depths of this narrative field, and once they are discovered they are well worth any amount of thoughtful consideration.

Week 2: Wild Pictures

This week, I was assigned to help put together the photography section of this course. After writing my suggestions, I made an assignment which asks you to recreate a scene from a film on your own. I can’t wait to see what people come up with!

While mulling over this assignment creation, I picked out some other activities to do for my own this week. The three I chose were from the Visual, Animated GIF, and Design assignment categories. My first assignment was pixel art, in which I recreated a famous Clint Eastwood photo in a 16×16 pixel shot. The second one I did consisted of making my first GIF — sticky note animation style. My third and final project was designing a comic-style photoset from a Western film to the tune of The Wild Wild West. I had a lot of fun with these projects, and I learned a lot about how to digitally create and edit photographs. I’m excited to try doing more later on!

Of course, while I was doing my own assignments, others were finishing their own as well! I loved looking through what others came up with and made sure to comment on a few of my favorites. Seeing everyone else’s hard work is one of my favorite aspects of this class so far; so many talents fall into this course, and everyone has something to share and teach!

My website has some new updates as well! With more information on the About page, a page for my other accounts, and some nifty plugins, Sundown Street is officially open for business! I want to tweak the theme a little more later on, but I think the circles look nice, kind of like a bunch of tiny sunsets. Hopefully I can work to better incorporate the name of the website into its other elements. That’ll be my next goal site-wise.

Finally, I made sure to keep up with Daily Creates this week on Twitter, which mostly consisted of taking more photos and practicing the writing of Tweets themselves (I struggle with character limits quite a bit). I took a picture of an ordinary thing to make it beautiful; drew a bull, a fool, and a horse all in the worst position for a cowboy to approach; and tweeted out some Western kindness for those who have to work this (blizzardy) weekend.

Now that this week is over, it’s time to prepare for the next set of projects! I’m going to aim for learning about the less visual forms of media; time to make some story posts!

DSCN0053 Edit

Dances with Wild Wild Wolves

Collage

What would Dances with Wolves look like if it were like The Wild Wild West show? A little more drawn and patriotic, probably. The design assignment for this project asks for a comic-style creation of scenes from a Western, which should look drawn like the show’s cutscenes.

I chose to use Dances with Wolves because it is one of my favorite movies and its scenes are iconic in many different ways. I had no trouble finding the pictures to fit the graphic image. I also decided to mimic the setup of the cutscenes of The Wild Wild West, more or less to see if I could recreate the drawings digitally. Here’s the original image:

WildWildWest

The show’s version has a more watercolor feel, but I wasn’t sure how exactly to manage that without better editing and digital drawing skills. Still, my finished product came out to represent my subject fairly well. I enjoyed using the composition of the borders and flag, as well as the different scenes within each panel to repurpose the images I took from the movie.

I used Paint.Net to edit the photos and compose the panels. The sketchy features were also added in Paint.Net. All of the work was done digitally.