(Insert Awesome Horror Movie Here)

Hello, Internet.

I would like to ask that, for a moment, you cast your mind back to the late 1970s – specifically 1970s America. A lot of change was happening. Serial killers such as Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy were terrorizing the country, the Vietnam war had ended, Apple and Microsoft had just gotten their start, Roe v Wade had recently legalized abortion, Richard Nixon had resigned after the Watergate Scandal, and after years of fighting, the Equal Rights Amendment had been ratified. If you were a conservative in America, you were probably pretty afraid. If you were pretty much anyone else – a woman, a person of colour, a queer person, or just someone who was fighting for a civil rights movement – things were perhaps starting to get a little better (except for, of course, that whole serial killer thing, which wasn’t good for anyone).

Meanwhile, a lot of cultural events were reflected in pop culture. Apocalypse Now portrayed the horrors of the Vietnam War, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest focused on the institutionalization and mistreatment of mentally ill people, One Day At A Time centred around a divorced mother raising her children, and Black Christmas, a horror movie about several young girls being murdered, has a young, pregnant protagonist who is planning to get an abortion.

In 1978, inspired heavily by Black Christmas, director John Carpenter released a movie called Halloween.

Halloween is a simple movie: a six year old boy murders his sister, is locked up for fifteen years, escapes, and kills four more people. Meanwhile, his doctor, Sam Loomis, tracks him down to attempt to stop him from hurting anyone. For a slasher movie, it’s relatively bloodless; there are only five deaths, only four of which are onscreen, two of which are strangling, and one of which is heavily obscured. There are no fountains of fake blood, or gruesome torture sequences. Even if the creators had wanted to include these things, they didn’t have the budget for it.

Halloween was made for about $300k, provided by producer Moustapha Akkad. This meant many of the actors were not well-known, and that the cast and crew were generally underpaid, and most of the props and costumes were decided by what could be obtained cheaply – most famously, the mask worn by Michael Myers is actually a mask of William Shatner that was altered to look scarier and less human, costing the crew less than five dollars. Actress Jamie Lee Curtis, daughter of Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, was hired in the lead role of Laurie Strode, giving the film a lot of publicity. Most of the film was not gore and violence, but just shots of various characters walking or driving around, talking, and being teenagers, while the movie’s score played in the background, never quite letting the audience forget that something terrible is about to happen.

The score was composed by John Carpenter. It’s sort of a weird piece – it’s in 10/8 timing (each measure is composed of ten eighth notes, which is fairly unusual), which makes it sound slightly off kilter and very distinctive; it has a very high melody juxtaposed with low synth chords, which sounds unnatural and alarming; and there’s an ominous ticking sound throughout the entire thing that is reminiscent of a clock counting away the seconds.

It’s incredibly effective. In fact, the audio is a large part of why the film works. Aside from the score, which has now become iconic, you can hear the sound of Michael breathing through the mask throughout the film (which is essentially the only sound he makes, since he never speaks). At one point, we hear a character being choked to death over the phone (a scene that would later be referenced in the opening of Wes Craven’s Scream). Once Michael starts attacking Laurie, we hear the scream that gave Jamie Lee Curtis the title of “scream queen”. All of this together is terrifying.

Of course, the audio isn’t the only thing the film utilizes to create a sense of horror. Another strong point in terms of style for Halloween is camerawork. In particular, the scenes from Michael Myers’ perspective – one extended POV shot at the beginning that puts you inside the killer’s head while he stabs his sister to death, and hides the fact that he is a six year old child until after he has murdered her, and several shots throughout the movie that show his perspective as he watches characters from behind hedges or outside windows, all with the sound of breathing in the background.

While the audio and camerawork lend themselves to the terror of Halloween, they are only supporting factors in the thing that truly makes the film scary: the fact that it could be real. When Halloween was released, slasher movies weren’t really a thing the way they are today. There were a few– Psycho is a sort of early template, and the aforementioned Black Christmas – but they wouldn’t be popularized until after Halloween’s release. What was common in horror movies prior to this was the supernatural: demons and possession, or monsters such as vampires and werewolves. It was all fantasy. Halloween shows a terrifying scenario that is very much a reality: a human being, a child, doing great evil. It’s a very naturalistic movie. The setting of Haddonfield, Illinois doesn’t exist – it’s a classic Everytown, America. It could be any town. It could be your town.

The characters in the movie feel real as well. Debra Hill, Carpenter’s wife at the time, co-wrote the movie, and she and Carpenter wanted to make sure that the teenagers acted and talked and dressed like real teenagers. The women weren’t meant to be meek and void of personality and essentially there to be viewed, as women were often portrayed in movies – they were given agency, desires, and in the case of Laurie Strode, enough resourcefulness and willingness to fight to fend off a killer using a knitting needle, a coat hanger, and his own weapon. The movie has sometimes been interpreted as misogynistic for killing off all the female characters who are shown drinking and having sex, while allowing the more conservative, booksmart, virginal Laurie to live and defeat the villain. However, this was apparently not an intentional commentary, and John Carpenter, Debra Hill, and Jamie Lee Curtis have all mentioned that the characters are meant to be realistic teenagers, not a portrayal of what teenagers (or women) should or shouldn’t be. (Not to mention, Laurie is shown swearing, smoking pot, helping her friends to shirk their babysitting duties in favour of using the empty houses they now have access to for their own enjoyment, and it’s mentioned that she has a crush but has trouble getting a boyfriend – she’s not exactly trying to be angelic, she’s just a little dorky). The idea of teenagers being killed for drinking or having sex would be portrayed more explicitly in Friday the Thirteenth, a copycat slasher film released in 1980, and the idea of an innocent final girl surviving would be echoed in Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street, and deconstructed in his later movie Scream.

Another thing that made Halloween scary is the utter lack of explanation for Michael’s actions. He doesn’t seem to have a specific motivation – in fact, he doesn’t seem especially motivated at all. He walks slowly, he shows no emotion, he kills people at random. At one point, upon finding a dog that Michael has killed, Loomis says simply, “he got hungry”. Seemingly, then, Michael is just acting on his whims. He isn’t killing people out of a need for revenge or to make a point, he just sees people and decides to kill them. Brad Miska’s article The Boogeyman, Fear, and Responsibility – A Close Analysis of ‘Halloween’ (1978)  suggests that Michael is killing characters who “(throw) off their responsibilities in a way that reminds him of his first victim” – but he identifies his victims, stalking Laurie and her friends, long before he sees them shirking their babysitting duties, suggesting that he didn’t have a reason to kill these teenagers specifically. This reflected the serial killers of the era, who would kill people seemingly at random, often horrifically.

A running theme throughout Halloween is characters asking for help and being ignored. Sam Loomis desperately tries to convince anyone who will listen that Michael is armed, dangerous, and heading for Haddonfield to kill more people, but is constantly told he’s overreacting. Laurie tells her friends that a man in a mask is stalking her, and they laugh it off. Tommy Doyle, the boy Laurie babysits, sees Michael and tells Laurie that “the boogeyman” is watching him, only for her to dismiss it as childish fear. When Michael is chasing Laurie, she screams for help and bangs on a neighbour’s door, and the neighbour is seen looking out the window and consciously deciding to ignore her. These are all examples of a very real human behaviour: the tendency to ignore bad things, to sweep them under the rug and look in the other direction rather than getting involved. Not only could the events of Halloween happen to you, but nobody is going to help you, or even believe you, if they do.

Halloween also harkens back to themes present in some of the earliest horror stories that we still enjoy today. For instance, Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein.

Like Halloween, Frankenstein has a villain who is quasi human, isolated from society, feared and rejected, and, eventually, a merciless killer with little to no empathy for his victims. Both stories make you wonder what it means to be human – and whether or not being human automatically means you have humanity. Both stories allow you to see from the perspective of the antagonist as well as the protagonist, although Halloween does this to create horror, and Frankenstein does it to raise questions of morality. In Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein abandons his creation and refuses to comply with his demands for a partner once he realizes the creature is capable of doing evil; in Halloween, Sam Loomis attempts to treat Michael for seven years, and then gives up, and focuses on keeping him contained instead. Both Loomis and Frankenstein dehumanize their respective charges, referring to them as “the creature”, or “it”, or “the demon”. Although the creature eventually learns to speak French, he has no formal education, and for the first part of his life he doesn’t know how to communicate at all, much like Michael, who has been silent, locked up, and heavily drugged since the age of six.

Of course, there are some pretty significant differences between the two stories as well. Frankenstein gives an immense amount of focus to why the creature does what he does; he speaks eloquently and attempts to reason with people, and although his actions are terrible, you sympathize with his situation and his feelings. Michael Myers is given no such motivation, and thus, no such empathy – his demeanour is cold, he is silent, and he wears a mask that makes him look more like a blank slate than a person. While much of the horror of Halloween comes from how real the events feel, Frankenstein is a work of science fiction, and although it may feel plausible to the reader, it’s not nearly as grounded in reality as Halloween. Halloween is also much more recent, so the fears – the people around you not being who they seem, injustices being swept under the rug to keep up the appearance of happiness and wholesomeness, bad things happening for no reason – are still pretty relevant today.

Halloween has its flaws, and it isn’t as scary, as novel, or as effective for a modern audience as it would have been when it was released, but it is altogether a good movie with an iconic legacy, and arguably the best slasher movie to date. That being said, it is a few days into November now, so we’ll give Halloween a rest (after all, the Black Christmas season is rapidly approaching).

Toodle-oo.

(Insert Tamed Shrew Here)

Hello, Internet.

So, what feels like eons ago, we were all on summer break. Over said break, we were asked to choose one of a list of “classic” novels and write a short response to it. I chose Stanley Park by Timothy Taylor, which references the major park in Vancouver.

One of the things that drew me to Timothy Taylor’s novel Stanley Park was the fact that, as a lifelong Vancouverite, I was very familiar with the book’s setting — the eponymous park, as well as the city of Vancouver generally. This familiarity helped make the book an enjoyable read, as I was able to both picture the scenes more vividly, and have a pre-existing knowledge of some of the issues brought up throughout the book, such as the problem of homelessness in Vancouver. Another thing that I really liked about the book was the prose used; although it became a little bit flowery at times, for the most part I really enjoyed the focus on description and imagery. I appreciated this aspect of the book especially because the plot was on the slow side, and without interesting writing it could have quickly gotten boring. While I enjoyed most of the book, however, the climax of the book – protagonist Jeremy Papier getting his own restaurant and then serving the patrons foods such as raccoon on the opening night, while claiming it was more traditional meat such as beef – bothered me. I think there can be merit in writing about amoral or disturbing things, but I disliked that the book presented Jeremy’s actions as being positive, or at least neutral, with the characters that challenged them being antagonized. All in all, I liked the book, but found parts of it difficult to stomach.
Picture a classic novel. The term may call to mind works such as Jane Eyre, Moby Dick, or Oliver Twist. These are old books that have been learned and loved for an eon, because the writing, characters, and timeless themes give them lasting appeal. Timothy Taylor’s novel Stanley Park, which tells the story of a man running a restaurant in 1990s Vancouver, probably isn’t the first thing you picture. However, there are many aspects of this book that qualify it as a classic, and perhaps the most important one is its universally applicable themes. The protagonist, Jeremy Papier, struggles with money, and how to strike a balance between attaining the resources he needs without losing integrity or giving up his dream; he rebuilds and reexamines family relationships as he deals with the repercussions of his father living in a forest in Stanley Park, and his mother’s death several years prior to the beginning of the book; he has a few key romantic interests that show different forms of romantic love and attraction; and he changes his plans and his identity time and time again as the events of the book take their toll. These themes – money, integrity, family, death, love, and identity – transcend a particular setting and time period. Taylor’s use of these themes to create a compelling story is what makes this book the classic that it is, and may keep it as a classic for a long time to come.

Once we had analyzed our respective classic novels, we moved on to the piece of media we were actually studying: William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. The rest of the class went on a field trip to see it at Bard on the Beach, which I did not attend, although I did see it on my own time. Having seen the play, we set about our task: resetting one act per group of three or four people in another era to examine the perspective on women in said era.

The group I was in was looking at Act III, which sees Lucentio and Hortensio attempting to subtly hit on Bianca while ostensibly giving her lessons, and then Kate and Petruchio getting married while Petruchio does everything he can to embarrass Kate. Our time period was the 1950s, a time at which the view on women was better – but not that much better – than in Shakespeare’s time, so we had to make a few changes.

First of all, we made some decisions about the characters’ backstories and motivation. We changed Bianca’s lessons in lute and Latin – both rather outdated subjects – to piano and cooking lessons, which would have been common for young women in the 1950s. Specifically, we had her learn to cook a jello salad recipe.

 

Yum.

We decided that Kate would be a working woman who didn’t want to get married, but was being pressured by her parents, who were obsessed with status and worried that since she was past the normal marrying age, she would be alone forever. We spent a while discussing what Kate should look like and how she should dress before realizing she only appears in a wedding dress in this act.

There were also a few changes to the script itself; we cut most of Hortensio’s lines, as well as a whole conversation after Kate and Petruchio had left, we trimmed down the content in the middle, and we peppered in some words from the 1950s – like changing the title to The Taming of the Frump, which was a derogatory term for a women at the time.

We decided to create our video as a stop motion, which was perhaps not the best choice for the time constraints we were facing, but did allow us a lot of finite control over the characters and sets.

While all of this was happening, we also had a few other assignments.

One was to create a short video explaining the role of women in our assigned time period. I used keynote to create my video, which talked about the general perspective on women in the 1950s, as well as our plans to apply that perspective in our larger project.

 

We also had to write an essay on why we thought The Taming of the Shrew was or wasn’t a classic. Mine digressed a little bit from this topic, because while I think that the play is a classic, I also think that it comes with some important considerations, such as what is acceptable to put onstage today, and how much we should change a work that has been around for so long.

In 1995, Disney released a movie called Pocahontas. The film tells the story of a young Native American woman in colonial America, who falls in love with a white man named John Smith. In the years since its release, the film has come under fire for romanticizing a very dark period in history as a whole, and the story of one girl in particular. It “[whitewashes] colonial history… [and attempts] to give a generation of children the impression that the conquest of the Americas was a cheerful, cooperative effort between the enlightened Europeans and the accommodating natives” (The Guardian, 2008). It is not the first film to be criticized for glossing over history in the name of a happy ending, and it will likely not be the last – many a film has been lambasted for this issue. However, in the case of some works, this issue is present but goes uncriticized, or is even lauded as progressive. An example – or, more accurately, several examples – of this is the slew of film and stage adaptations of Shakespeare’s classic play The Taming of the Shrew. As a general rule, referring to a work as a “classic” is considered to be complimentary. A classic stands the test of time; it inspires other works; it has a pervasive set of themes that could appeal to, in theory, almost anyone. In short, it’s the best of the best. The Taming of the Shrew exemplifies these qualities. It has been around since the 1600s and is still performed and studied widely today. It has inspired other works from several direct film and stage adaptations to the 1999 teen comedy Ten Things I Hate About You. It focuses on themes of family, marriage, identity, gender, and autonomy, which are all still important topics today. However, since 1590, there has been a significant shift in society’s views towards several of these topics, as well as a large number of other works centred around these themes that embody a more contemporary perspective. With this in mind, I don’t think The Taming of the Shrew still deserves the high praise it receives, nor do I think it should be constantly edited and re-edited to make it palatable for each new, more socially aware generation. That’s not to say that it’s not worth studying. As a historical artefact, and as something to teach us about the time period and social climate it came from, it’s useful. Like anything so old, it’s worth preserving just to further our understanding of the people who wrote it. The 1590s were not nearly so well documented as the last hundred years, so any document which can lend us an insight into that time is potentially important. In this particular case, it is especially important because the person who wrote it is an influential historical figure – one whose life and values we are still trying to fully piece together. Additionally, it’s important not to sweep the more unsavoury aspects of history or historical figures under the rug in the interest of purifying the more favourable elements. William Shakespeare is a revered and respected playwright with a significant impact on Western media. He was also a man living centuries ago whose views on women, among other things, would not be acceptable today, although they were the norm at the time. Understanding these views is important to fully comprehend his plays. Now, plays are a unique media in that they demand to be repeatedly performed. Unlike a novel or a movie, which are generally made by a person or group of people and then consumed by others solely in their original form, a play requires people to actively perform it each time someone wants to see it. This means that for a play to last several centuries, there must be a group of people in each generation of that time – or at least often enough for the script not to be lost or forgotten – who are willing to attach their name and face and creative input to the message the play maintains. However, the very concept of a comedy where the supposed victory is a woman being abused and broken for daring to have a voice is, by today’s standards, reprehensible. It calls to mind the likes of Punch and Judy or Family Guy – not exactly what you’d call classics, but rather, shows dependent on low brow humour for cheap laughs. In many cases, a play may be edited a little bit to accommodate the modern viewpoint, which is typically fine – the play is preserved but becomes inoffensive. I believe this is generally what people are attempting when they alter the text of The Taming of the Shrew to make it more politically correct. However, where The Taming of the Shrew differs from other plays in this respect is that the element people are typically changing – that Petruchio abusing Kate into submission is viewed as a victory; that being able to control women through any means necessary is a positive outcome – is the crux of the whole play. As in the story of Pocahontas, it’s important to recognize this play’s place in history, and to avoid glorifying or glossing over the horrific realities of our past in the interest of making the story fit our present views. It seems odd and a little insensitive to praise this play – or to keep performing so-called direct adaptations that alter the perspective and important plot points to make it more palatable to a modern audience. Doing this achieves perhaps the same thing that forgetting about the play completely does: it blunts the unsavoury edges, sweeps the unacceptable parts of history under the rug to help us sleep at night. As a general rule, if something is so offensive you have to dramatically alter it to passably present it in what is supposed to be its base format, that may be a sign it’s time to retire it. So how do we recognize The Taming of the Shrew for all the things that have made it a classic for so long without pardoning the rather archaic message it perpetuates, or romanticizing the horrific events it portrays? First of all, I think it’s important to study the original text – as well as the various reiterations of it throughout the last few centuries – rather than focus on creating more and more modernized versions. Second of all, I think it’s important to look at the context around the play – its meaning and reception when it was written, and the social climate at the time – and analyze the things that make it a classic with that historical perspective in mind, while separately evaluating whether it is deserving of prestige today. If the play is performed, I think it should be prefaced with a discussion of the context around the original play, and our understanding today of the themes and perspectives portrayed therein. All in all, I think there are several aspects of The Taming of the Shrew that qualify it as a classic to this day. Its long history, its revelations about how still-relevant themes were viewed during Elizabethan times, and its influence on Western literature and media, are all reasons that we still study it today. However, I think that we need to respect the history around this work without putting it up on a pedestal or altering the message to fit our current perspectives. Unlike Disney in 1995, we shouldn’t erase the negative parts of our history – instead we should study them, understand them, learn from them, and move forward from them.

This was an interesting unit, and an important subject to study, but I am excited to move onto our next unit, which should be both seasonally appropriate and an excellent excuse for me to use all the fake blood I got for my birthday.

Toodles.

(Insert Awesome Concept Art Here)

Hello, Internet.

So, we just finished school for the year. That means we all survived exam season, TPoLs, and, of course, another PLP exhibition.

This year, our exhibition centred around an interesting synthesis of two themes: concept art, and the Vietnam War.

First, we learned about concept art. We started out by looking at some examples, some of which felt more like art than others. We even took a field trip to the Vancouver Art Gallery to see some examples in real life.

(Above: me interacting with some concept art)

What we learned about concept art was this: the medium of the art is little more than a means of communication for the idea, or concept, which is the more important thing. The concept could be anything, as long as the artist felt strongly enough to create art around it.

As I’m sure you’ve guessed by this point, our assignment was to create concept art about concepts related to the Vietnam War. More specifically, we looked at ethical judgements related to the war– either from a historical perspective, or from a modern perspective looking back.

In order to do this, we had to do a fair amount of research on the Vietnam War. We spent a few weeks studying some key themes such as why people went to war, how the war was fought, and what things were like in America during the war. Purely coincidentally, I ended up watching The Killing Fields and the second half of Apocalypse Now in two other classes while we were studying the Vietnam War. Although The Killing Fields is more about the Cambodian Civil War, both movies do portray events that were part of the Vietnam War, and it was interesting to see how the war was portrayed in entertainment-based media in the 70s.

Once we had done some research, we each decided what concept we wanted to present in our art. This was my artist’s statement explaining the concept behind my work:

Matchbox ‘55 (Candles and matches) – Willa Bisanz When we started researching the Vietnam War, one of the things we looked at was footage of Vietnam veterans talking about why they served in Vietnam. For some of them, they had no choice, or they were in a situation where it was difficult to get a job and were just taking whatever options they could. However, one thing that caught my attention was that a few of the soldiers mentioned wanting to be heroes for their country, or believing that the government would do them no wrong. This was also a concept that came up frequently in previous years when we studied the world wars– people went to war out of heroism or patriotism or trust in their government and their country. The idea, to me, seemed naive. However, the more I learned about the Vietnam War, the more I realized that it was only during that war that many people were able to learn just how naive it was. With the release of the Pentagon Papers revealing that the government had been lying to the public and getting themselves further entrenched in a war they didn’t believe they could win, the televised media footage of the war giving people more of an understanding of just how bad things were, and Vietnam War protesters rallying against American involvement in the war, and the patriotism and blind faith in the government began to fall apart. The concept of “American Exceptionalism”, or the belief in America’s superiority to other countries, was certainly taken down a notch– but it still lingers a little today. The candles in the middle of my art piece represent these ideas– American Exceptionalism, trusting the government and military blindly, wanting to be a hero for your country with little or no reference for what exactly was going to happen to you. As more and more inciting events happen, the candles burn down more, the trust and patriotism melting away under the fire of America’s mistakes. The matches around represent these events– things that happened during the Vietnam War, and examples of how today shades of American Exceptionalism are still around, and with it, the naivety of blind trust.

Essentially, my project used candles and matches to represent how different incidents within the Vietnam War led to the American public’s trust in their government and military melting away and being destroyed over time.

Speaking to people at the exhibition who actually remembered living through the events of the Vietnam War was very interesting, because they had a very good understanding of the historical side of the art, and were able to give really interesting insights into the concepts.

All in all, this was a fun project, and I enjoyed getting to light a bunch of candles in such a manner that pretty much everyone under the age of twenty who I spoke to asked if I was trying to summon a demon. However, I think concept art is effective only in the delivery of certain concepts, and that while it worked well for this project, it’s not a format I would want to use for projects regularly.

Toodles.

(Insert Awesome TPoL 2019 Here)

Hello, Internet.

Also, hello those of you here in person. Welcome to another Transitional Presentation of Learning.

While I don’t want to make this too similar to my last blog post, I do want to call upon my time machine project as a reflection of what I’ve learned this year, and what I want to focus on learning next year. I also want to take a look at the goals I set for myself in my MPoL to see if I’ve achieved them.

The main goal that I set in my MPoL was to push myself in terms of using different media or techniques in my work. I think a good example of a place that I did this was the reflections we did while reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. A few of my reflections included creating a “piggy bank” representing how much I was being productive and making good decisions, and creating a crossword puzzle themed around the chapter of the book we had just read.

I definitely had to make a conscious effort to use these formats for my work, rather than falling back on something like writing that would have come more easily to me. Even though making a crossword isn’t necessarily something I would often do for a project, I enjoyed the challenge of trying different things and expanding my lexicon of abilities. In the case of the reflections, putting more work into something and stepping outside of my comfort zone forced me to do more actual reflecting than I would have had to do for something I was really comfortable with.

I should also touch on the work from this year that I think I could have improved. We did an entire unit on writing, which as I’ve mentioned before, is well within my comfort zone– but for something I’m usually good at, I think some of the work I did was kind of mediocre.

(Thank you Parker for this visual)

One issue may have been that I have trouble getting myself invested in work about subjects that don’t personally interest me. While I really enjoyed learning about the red scare and general fifties culture, and the Civil Rights movement, I wasn’t as entranced by the topics of the Cold War and our current subject, the Vietnam War, and I think that was reflected in my work. While I am excited about the subjects I know we’re studying next year– horror and modern history are both definite interests of mine– I also think that it’s important to be able to care about a project without caring about the subject matter.

Now, I just did a whole project reflecting on what I have and haven’t improved on this year: the time machine project, in which I created an artifact that I would have liked to have sent myself at the beginning of PGP.

The thing I think I have improved this year is procrastinating less. This has been a long term goal of mine but, unsurprisingly, I’ve never quite gotten around to achieving it. We did a whole unit on time management, and although I don’t actively use everything from that unit, I do think it helped me become better at managing my own time.

What I want to talk more about, however, is the other thing I focused on in my time machine project: the thing we looked at that I still need to improve. In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People it’s referred to as sharpening the saw, but the more general term is just taking care of yourself.

To draw again from the book, “sharpening the saw” referred to keeping yourself healthy in four aspects: social, physical, mental, and spiritual. In the drawing above, you can see the typical level of each that I would display. Physically, I care about my health a fair amount– I’m constantly dehydrated and my diet leaves something to be desired, but I regularly exercise, get rest, eat carbs, and take care of my hygiene, and as a result I stay pretty healthy. Mentally, at least in terms of cognitive function, I always want to engage my brain and keep learning– I spend time doing things like crosswords that are a fun mental challenge, or reading the news to help stay up to date with the world around me, and it’s important to me to try and educate myself (as well as, of course, get an education in school) and be capable of comprehending and critically considering big ideas.

On the other hand, my social and “spiritual” health are on the lower side. I’m very introverted, so it doesn’t take a lot for me to feel socially drained, and although I enjoy spending time with my friends and family, being around people for too long can make me moody or exhausted, and I find it difficult to judge beforehand just how a social activity is going to affect me. I’m not a big fan of the word spiritual here, because I think of it as mostly having vague religious connotations, whereas I think the idea of “spiritual health” is actually referring more to emotional health. Like everyone, my emotional health varies, but I definitely don’t take care of it as consistently or as well as I take care of my physical and cognitive health. I have a habit of letting myself get burnt out– and then trying to push through it, rather than addressing the issue. Usually around this time of year, I’ll get anxious and stressed about school, which messes with my appetite and ability to sleep, and leads to me being sick or exhausted. When I do this, my work gets sloppier, and I find it increasingly difficult to be productive.

Recently, my physical health suffered a little bit when I came down with mononucleosis. As with emotional burnout, I typically try and push through being sick while disrupting my life as little as possible. Particularly at this time of year, I dislike missing school or work, as well as the more fun things I do in my free time. Around the second day I was sick, I went boxing with my sister, figuring I just had a cold and could mostly ignore it. Before we drove home afterwards, she asked me whether it was safe to start the car, because I looked I was about to faint, and she didn’t want to be driving if I suddenly passed out.

That and the fact that I pretty much did feel ready to pass out was enough to convince me to stay home from school the next day, but I was determined to get back on my feet as soon as possible; I went to work that night, and the next day I was back at school.

This is a picture of me with mono, outside, hanging out with friends, and generally trying to ignore how sick I felt.

That weekend I was still feeling sick, so my mum suggested going to the clinic in case it was strep throat. I figured it wouldn’t hurt, although I was still pretty convinced that it was a cold, so we went and talked to a doctor who told me that I had either strep or mono, I should get tested for both, and I should stay out of school for the next few days. The next day, I got blood drawn and tested for mono, with positive results.

Much to my chagrin, there is no treatment for mono, and I spent the next week essentially bedridden. For about five days I did little more than sleep, eat popsicles, and watch TV.

However, that was pretty much all it took. Mono is known for lasting a long time, but once I actually stayed home and got rest and took care of myself, I got over most of my symptoms in close to the minimum of time mono takes to run its course. By the following week, I was back on my feet, and despite it being a crucial time of year, I was able to pick up where I left off with school without too much trouble.

What I want to take away from this experience is that taking time to recuperate and coming back fully charged is ultimately better than trying to ignore unhealthiness– and this goes for everything, not just physical health.

While I would like to avoid wherever possible things like missing a week of school, on a smaller scale I think it would improve my ability to do work well to try and avoid getting burnt out. Not procrastinating and having good time management is an important skill for this one. Doing things early rather than letting them pile up or leaving them to the last minute will help decrease the amount of stress I’m feeling. Being able to time block both time to be productive and time to rest can help me find a balance. Another thing that will help is being proactive– assessing a situation ahead of time and making a call that if I go out with friends the day before I do a big test, I’m not going to be able to do as well as if I get some rest so I have the energy to be productive the next day (this is assuming that in both scenarios I’ve studied and prepared).

While I think learning to sharpen the saw is important and will really help with my productivity and the quality of my work, and it is something we discussed in PGP, I realize this isn’t strictly an academic goal. However, for me, feeling stressed or overworked emotionally or physically is consistently school related, and school is one of the most important things it affects, so when I was setting this goal I was largely considering how it would play into my academic life. I think it’s somewhere between a personal and academic goal, but with an academic focus.

So, on the more academic side, my goal for next year is to focus on finding a way to get invested in my work regardless of how much I care about the subject matter. On the somewhat less academic, but more personally important, side, my goal is to be proactive and manage my time in a way that allows me to take care of myself in all aspects so I can be as productive as possible.

Toodles.

(Insert Awesome Time Machine Here)

Hello, Internet.

So, we’re approaching the end of the year, and that means it’s time to start reflecting on what we’ve actually been doing for the past several months. In the case of PGP specifically, we’ve been asked to do this by creating an artifact that represents the learning we wish we could give to ourselves at the beginning of this year.

For my artefact, I decided to design several different screens from a game about PGP and the learning I’ve done this year. To start, I did a rough sketch of what I wanted to include.

I wanted to represent all of the learning I did in PLP, with a specific focus on the thing I think I improved most– being more productive and procrastinating less– and the thing I want to work on improving now– sharpening the saw and taking care of my own health both mentally and physically.

The first screen that I designed was just an opening screen with the name of the game, Personal Growth Plan, and a start button. In this screen, and in the background of every screen, I added a grid effect that was reminiscent of a calendar, to represent time management and time blocking.

The next screen I designed was about time management, and specifically focused on the concept of “time vampires”, or things that suck up your time. I gave some of the options that we learned for fighting time vampires: time blocking, doing a weekly review, and using the app Things.

My next screen was based around the idea of goal setting. This wasn’t an area that I wanted to focus on, but I had a lot of fun doing the visuals. This level was based around snakes and ladders, drawing on a visual representation of “goal ladders”, and with a sword representing the idea of smart goals and planning.

Next, I did a screen based on the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The seven habits are essentially tools that can be used throughout life, so for this level I did a store where you can buy items. These items can actually be seen better in the inventory than the store itself. You can get a map, representing the first three habits (be proactive, begin with the end in mind, put first things first), because a map is used for planning, knowing where you’re going, and being prepared for the future. You can get a cell phone, representing the fourth-sixth habits (think win-win, seek first to understand then to be understood, synergize), which are all centred around working with other people and being cooperative and interdependent. For the last habit, I added a health potion, because habit seven (sharpen the saw) is all about taking care of yourself, but I also added a sharpened saw, as a more literal interpretation of the name of the habit.

As well as the above items, the inventory contains a calendar– representing time blocking and time management– and the SMART sword from the goal setting level. It also includes a document entitled PGP, meant to represent my actual PGP, which would act in-game as a mission statement.

I also did a character screen for myself. This includes a couple of different hat options– a lumberjack one, based around the idea of sharpening a saw, a knight helmet, to go with the SMART sword, and one mode where I have a pencil tucked behind my ear, and am holding a calendar. Aside from that, the screen shows stats about my character. Drawing on ideas from The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, it has both a personal a relationship bank account, with different amounts of money in them. Instead of health, it has general saw sharpness, which is then further broken down into the four categories of health discussed in the chapter about the seventh habit: social, mental, physical, and spiritual. In my case, the social and spiritual bars are very low because I am not a very social or spiritual person, whereas the mental and physical bars are relatively high because those are areas I usually focus on. There are also some stats showing my strengths and weaknesses, based on what I learned this year, and what I still need to improve on. Productivity and time management, which I feel I’ve really improved on, have positive stats, whereas interpersonal skills, which have always been something I’ve been less good at, has a negative stat.

To finish, I made all the screens into gifs (although I’m having trouble getting them to work as gifs in the post) to animate them and make them feel more like part of a game.

I really enjoyed doing this project and reflecting on what I’ve learned in PGP this year. I am hoping to carry forward what I’ve learned in this course as I keep growing as a learner.

Toodles,

– Willa

 

(Insert World On The Brink Here)

Hello, Internet.

So, we’ve been continuing to learn about the 1960s. For this unit, we’ve been focusing on examining how the world was “on the brink” in that decade. As our final product, we each wrote an essay about one event we believed best exemplified how the world was on the brink. I chose to write the following essay about the Berlin Wall being built:

Close your eyes. Imagine, for a moment, that when you open them again, you will be cut off from the world; a wall will divide your home from everything and everyone outside. Long stretches of barbed wire will allow you a final look at the world you’re losing, only to be replaced by a solid concrete barrier. Between you and the rest of your country will stand armed guards. The place you once called home will turn to a prison around you. This is the fate that befell the residents of West Berlin on the morning of August 13th, 1961. In the midst of a largely ideological, nonphysical war, Berliners were suddenly met with a very concrete slap to the face in the form of the Berlin Wall. To America and other democratic countries, the Berlin Wall was a physical reminder of the possibility of communist rule, and of just how close they were to the brink of destruction. What exactly was pushing them to the brink of destruction was a series of ongoing events. Throughout the fifties and into 1961, the East German Government had been facing a problem: East German citizens kept fleeing to West Berlin as refugees. While East Germany was under communist rule, West Berlin was under democratic rule, and provided a way out for East German citizens who disagreed with communism. At the time, the Cold War – the ideological tension between the East (communist countries such as Soviet Russia) and the West (democratic countries such as America) – was in full swing, and communist leaders were aggrieved by the idea of losing power or citizens to the West. In an attempt to quell the stream of refugees, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev proposed a solution: close off the border to West Berlin. The East German Government did so, first with barbed wire, and after two days during which there was no significant protest, with the Berlin Wall. The wall only heightened tensions between the East and the West, exacerbating the West’s fears of communism or all out war. For almost two weeks after the wall was erected, American president John F. Kennedy remained silent on the subject. However, America’s Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, released a statement shortly after the wall was erected, saying that the Wall would be the source of “vigorous protest” as it was a violation of the agreement between the East and the West for the East German Government to restrict the freedom of the citizens of West Berlin who were living under American rule. Rusk also said that the refugees coming from East Germany into West Berlin were responding to the “failures of communism”; that they weren’t being persuaded to leave East Germany by western propaganda, but rather were leaving because the communist system was not providing an agreeable situation for them. Once the Wall was in place, East German citizens were no longer able to flee, and were forced to comply with Communist rule or put themselves in danger trying to cross the wall. This, combined with the fact that West Berliners were now having their freedom restricted by the Soviet powers, gave the Soviets a sudden position of power over America – and although Kennedy didn’t publicly address the issue for thirteen days, he was eventually forced to respond to the situation. Throughout his statements and speeches addressing the Berlin Wall in the months following its construction, Kennedy maintained that America would defend Berlin, even if it meant potentially dire consequences, stating that the US would not “surrender the freedom of [those] for which [they were] responsible”. Although Kennedy wished to negotiate with the Soviet and East German powers, he also faced ongoing pressures from the American public to take a more extreme approach– either to surrender West Berlin, or start a war with the East. One National Review article described Kennedy as “[evading] firm decisions”, and another one shortly after said he was just “waiting for the dust to settle”– essentially, that he was not taking a strong enough stance. Kennedy refused to surrender or to start a war, believing that either extreme would end poorly, and that a middle ground could be reached. However, the extreme demands from the public reinforced the same Western fears that the wall itself did: the US was caught between the possibility of the East taking power, and the danger of nuclear war. Almost three decades later, on November 9th, 1989, the East German Government announced that the citizens of West Berlin were free at last to come and go as they pleased. Crowds swarmed the Berlin Wall – some seeking to destroy the barrier that had kept them divided from the world for so long, others simply looking to cross it. After almost thirty years of living in confines, a time in which almost two hundred people died trying to cross the wall, the citizens of Berlin could celebrate their freedom. From its construction in 1961 to its fall three decades later, the Berlin Wall cast a literal and metaphorical shadow over the West. The Wall acted as a constant physical reminder of just how much and in how many ways the world was on the brink – of Communist rule, of war, or at worst, of total destruction. Today, more time has elapsed since the fall of the Berlin Wall than time passed while it stood. However, it’s still widely recognized as one of the most prominent symbols of the Cold War, and of a world on the brink of obliteration.

While I chose to write about the Berlin Wall, one of the other prominent examples we focussed on was the Cuban Missile Crisis. We watched the movie Thirteen Days, and looked at some primary sources around the crisis. I took some great academic notes while watching the movie (a few days before watching this movie I watched The Death of Stalin, which stars Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev):

CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS

  • Oh god it’s so edgy
  • Oim toilking ta you layta
  • Comrade Buff
  • They’re really going to lengths to show that this is the White House
  • wAnNa Toik aBoiT tHis PawTy
  • Did he just steal some guy’s toast
  • Surface to surface
  • The beehive hair
  • Loyalty, or as they call it in 1960s Cuba, Fidelity
  • The Soviets are putting medium range missiles into Cuba
  • Edgy football
  • What happened to it being in colour
  • Ted Sorensen
  • SS4 Sandal??
  • That’s the missile map
  • Kill 80mil in five minutes
  • Dean Rusk
  • Hit them with a missile or retreat
  • Lock em in a room and kick em in the ass
  • Find him, Kenny.
  • Kenny and the Kennedys sounds like a nickelodeon show from 1997.5
  • Get rid of the missiles & Castro in one fell swoop
  • Fidel is friends with Steve Buscemi
  • That fade transition though
  • Connecticut is day two
  • Sned
  • “There’s something immoral about abandoning your own judgement”
  • Cuban blockade
  • They can hit every place in the country
  • EXCEPT SEATTLE
  • “Peace is our profession”
  • “You’re in a pretty bad fix, Mr. President”
  • They’re gonna look for Clifford
  • Ortsac. Very creative.
  • wE are nOT INvaDiNg cUBA
  • Between 20-30 Soviet ships approaching Cuba
  • John McCone (CIA)
  • Adlai Stevenson
  • Jazzy
  • Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!
  • “Did those bastards shoot so much as a BB Gun at you?”
  • “It was a cake walk, sir.”
  • The Guns of August
  • October 24th
  • X Men First Class
  • Is that Steve Carrell
  • There’s a submarine
  • Russians are not idiots
  • Well this is just going to torpedo their whole plan
  • The ships are stopping?
  • It’s not Steve Carrell
  • Eyeball to eyeball and the other guy just blinked
  • Maintain contact, do nothing else
  • Defcon 2 (JFK does not approve)
  • “I’m an old political cat… But I’ve got one life left”
  • 48 hours
  • The Ratatouille X men crossover nobody asked for
  • Puppet Buscemi
  • Missiles are now operational
  • Frogs (short range tactical nukes)
  • They had missile warning lights??
  • “No”
  • More football
  • Accept the first letter
  • “it wON’T WORK BECAUSE IT’S WISHFUL THINKING”
  • Make the Soviets agree
  • Remove Turkey missiles in six months
  • Is it pronounced Khrushchev or Khrushchov?
  • “We have to have an answer tomorrow. Because Monday, we go to war.”
  • He’s not holding the steering wheel the right way
  • Ah he’s drinking coffee
  • Don’t drink coffee while driving Kenny that’s how you end up spilling it
  • They’re burning their documents
  • Wow a Soviet? In the Russian embassy? Big shocker.
  • Tomorrow.
  • The sun came up.
  • “There’s no stopping us now” Oh no
  • Yup there’s the football

Aside from looking at the more political aspect, we also took a look at the social events that were happening in the 1960s (aside from the African American Civil Rights Movement). We watched an episode about social change called The Times They Are A-Changin’, which talked about some important things that were happening in the sixties: the women’s rights movement (particularly bodily autonomy for women with things like birth control and the beginning of a conversation around premarital sex), the push for environmental awareness, the conservative movement, the united farm workers (and how it tied in to a Latino civil rights movement), and the events of Stonewall and the gay rights movement. After watching it and taking notes, we were asked to create a piece of media talking about how one of the topics discussed was an example of the world being on the brink.

I chose to focus on the gay rights movement, with my thesis being that throughout the 1960s the world (or, more accurately, America) was on the brink of a social revolution– and Stonewall (along with some other events around the same time) was the watershed moment that pushed it over the brink and kicked off an actual activist movement. I created a keynote explaining the history of the gay community pre-Stonewall, the events of Stonewall, and some of the activism it directly inspired, shown here as a video:

Although I chose to focus on a few important things that Stonewall inspired, the events of the Stonewall riots are more widely considered to be one of the first successful acts of LGBTQ+ activism in America, and a major tipping point for the LGBTQ+ liberation movement. They helped bring the community out of the shadows and into the public eye, and without Stonewall it could have taken several more years for the movement to get anywhere.

Here are the sources I used for the video:

Stonewall
Marsha P. Johnson
STAR
Conversion therapy
Joseph Nicolosi (This didn’t make it into the final product, but Nicolosi was a more contemporary advocate for conversion therapy, who died just two years ago.)
Brenda Howard

It’s been interesting to look at the 1960s in terms of both the social and political events of the time, and having multiple layers creates a more in depth picture of what life in 1960s America was like. I’m looking forward to learning about more history, both social and political, in our next unit.

(Insert Not So Awesome Canada Here)

Hello, Internet.

(This is supposed to be a gif but there’s a good chance it’s frozen and is now just a picture of some curtains. Anyway– hi.)

So, I recently co-created a video about Canada’s racist past (and present). It followed the thesis that Canada was painted as a hero in the civil rights movement, but it actually had its own racism happening, which we don’t learn about as much as America. 

Although this video focussed on Canadian history, the unit that it related back to was actually about the African-American civil rights movement, which we’ve been studying in socials for a couple months now. We started out learning about the murder of Emmett Till, and chronologically worked our way through the major events of the movement up until the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

We also did a series of “Socratic seminars” for this unit, based around first the novel Dear Martin, and then around two films: one about the freedom riders, and Selma, a movie about (surprise, surprise) the Selma marches. In these seminars, half the class would sit in a circle and have an in-depth discussion about the central themes and ideas of whatever piece of media we were looking at, and the other half would sit in a slightly bigger circle with one person sitting behind each person in the discussion, taking notes on how much they said, how many questions they asked how well they were participating, and how much they were listening (a non-stressful learning environment if I ever saw one). When we first started doing these seminars, we took a while to get the hang of looking deeper than just the basic text we were examining and actually getting to the themes or larger issues at hand, but as we did more seminars and learned more about the topics we were discussing, we eventually started having better discussions.

We had a small assignment within this unit where we had to write a blog post relating some issue from the civil rights movement to today. I chose to talk about the history of people stereotyping black men as “angry” or “dangerous”.

Our large driving question for this unit was “How Can An Individual Change a System?” There are several clear examples within the civil rights movement of individuals who fought to change the system– MLK is the one who immediately comes to mind, but other examples include Claudette Colvin, Rosa Parks, JFK, or Diane Nash, among others. However, we were also given an assignment that would answer the question using individuals outside of the Civil Rights movement: Pick a Canadian activist, and explain how they as an individual changed the system.

I started looking into Canadians connected to various civil rights initiatives. The Canadian I eventually settled on researching was Kenneth Zeller. Zeller wasn’t exactly an activist, but more along the lines of what Emmett Till was to the African American civil rights movement– someone whose death incited activism among those who outlived him. Zeller’s story is a disturbing, but unfortunately not uncommon, one: he was a teacher living in Toronto who was beaten to death by five teenage boys for being gay. While the killers were all eventually convicted and sent to prison, they faced only reduced manslaughter charges rather than second degree murder. In the wake of Zeller’s murder, the Toronto school board introduced the Triangle Program, an alternative class for LGBTQ+ students who were being harassed or felt otherwise unsafe attending regular school. This was one of the first programs in Canada to address the issue of LGBTQ+ students being harassed or attacked, and was ground breaking at the time it was created.

I didn’t actually end up doing a project on Kenneth Zeller, however, because before I could make any headway on that project, our main assignment was changed: Instead of researching a Canadian activist, we would work with a partner to come up with our own driving question to answer alongside our main driving question in a video that connected Canada, historical perspective, and contemporary issues. From there, we came up with the idea for the video we eventually created: a look into Canada’s dark past, and why we’re typically seen as so sympathetic.

In order to reflect on what we learned from this project and prepare to write blog posts about it, we were given one final task: fill out a spreadsheet and answer some questions about what you learned from this project, and what you want to take away from it.

(Click the image to read it)

The main thing I took away from this project is that it’s important to think critically about information, and actively make an effort to educate yourself and seek out the most accurate and unbiased information. Moving forward, I want to make more of an effort to educate myself about both parts of history that might be glossed over or whitewashed, and current events that I might be getting a biased report of or not getting a lot of information about. I’m glad I did this project, because it made me reconsider the way that I, and other people, look at the country I live in, and the world around me as a whole.

 

Toodles.

 

 

 

 

(Insert History Lesson Here)

Hello, Internet.

So, we’re currently learning about the Civil Rights movement. Similarly to with our unit on the 1950s, we have a couple of small blog post assignments before we do our main project for the unit. Essentially, we have to connect a modern event to something from the Civil Rights movement.

We’re reading a novel called Dear Martin that discusses some contemporary events and issues related to race, and helped provide some potential connections between modern day America and the Civil Rights movement. I didn’t totally base my connection off the book, but the concept I researched was one that played a role in the plot: racial profiling, and the idea that black men are dangerous.

I went a little more general than I was probably supposed to with what my event connected to– it’s more just black history than specifically the Civil Rights movement –and decided to look into the history of the “scary black man” stereotype, and how it informed the questioning and backlash Terry Crews faced after coming forwards with sexual assault allegations against his former agent.

Sources:

The Colour of Crime

drugpolicy.org

Huffington Post

Independent

As you would expect, the stereotype has a racist and disturbing history– it’s rooted in laws from the 17th century that decreed black people face worse punishments for crimes, and essentially be treated as more criminal, than white people who’d done the same crime. Since then, more layers have contributed to building the stereotype, and even today racist media portrayal of black people is continuing to make the problem worse.

I wanted to keep this video a reasonable length and focus more on the history than what’s happening today, but I feel I should mention one key point I didn’t talk about: aside from just being stopped or arrested, unarmed black people (largely men) are often shot by police. This is a huge issue in America today, and plays a big role in Dear Martin. It’s also pretty much a direct result of black men being perceived as more dangerous or more violent than they actually are.

I think this problem is going to continue for the foreseeable future unless some solutions are put in place to stop it– for instance, better sensitivity training for policemen, or better media portrayal of black people and people of colour in general. Even then, it’s an issue so deeply seated in American society that it may take decades or centuries to undo, and might never completely go away.

While this was a very upsetting subject to research, I learned a lot of stuff I didn’t know about the history of this stereotype and racial profiling, and I look forward to doing my next Civil Rights-related blog post.

Toodles.

 

(Insert Another Awesome MPoL Here)

Hello, Internet.

So, I’m sure the title has given away absolutely nothing about what this post is about.

That’s right– it’s time for MPoLs, or “Mid-year Presentations of Learning”. In other words, it’s time for me to talk about myself.

First of all, however, I want to talk about something that I literally just spent a whole post talking about : the winter exhibition.

Now, I feel like both we, as a class, and I, personally, did a good job on the exhibiton. The end result was great, everybody put a lot of work into it, and we weren’t defeated by any mishaps we came across along the way.

However, after writing a blog post about the exhibiton, and then getting and absorbing feedback for said blog post, I came to a realization: I don’t feel like I really learned much, if anything, from that project.

That’s not to say I didn’t learn the subject material. I can tell you more about The Crucible than you will ever need to know, and I can do so using authentic fifties slang to boot. I had no trouble learning the content of the course– but that’s not really the point.

My main job for the exhibition was to be DRI for the script editing. I enjoy writing and editing, and I’m picky enough about grammar to go through and catch all the little mistakes that are characteristic of eighteen people trying to write one cohesive document. On top of this, I usually jump at any chance I get to do a writing based project– we’ve written a smattering of essays throughout the time I’ve been in PLP, but for a class that’s half-English, there tends to be very few straight-up writing assignments, and when we do get them, they’re usually part of something bigger (as in this case).

Now, I talked a lot about the exhibition in my last post, but I didn’t really discuss the other three posts that I made for this project– one about how good Stranger Things was, one about a drawing I did of a bird, and one that I want to talk a little more about now.

This particular post is one that I enjoyed doing, and which I put a lot of work into– but more importantly, it’s one that I feel I actually did learn something from. It wasn’t a particularly educational assignment; the premise of the post was “how to spot a Canadian”, in which I discussed a set of Canadian stereotypes and whether they had any basis in truth. However, this post also featured a video that I made with the help of some friends.

We did a whole year in PLP that focussed on video, so it’s not an unfamiliar medium to me, but it’s also not really my area of expertise. To use a similar example, outside of PLP, I take Film and TV with my friend Parker, for whom videomaking really is an area of expertise. Typically, we both use this class as a chance to utilize our strengths: I write and storyboard, and Parker handles directing and editing. However, this week we created a video that Parker wrote and I edited. Again, I’ve edited videos before– but it still felt like a challenge, much more so than writing, which comes easily to me, ever does. I really had to push myself in order to get results I was satisfied with, and I think this was something that actively helped develop my video-editing skills. Doing the Canadian interview video was similar– it forced me to actually do something that I would normally leave up to people who are better at it.

I think this all reflects two things that I talked about in my PGP. First of all, the ISTE standard I wanted to focus on, for which I said this:

The ISTE Standard I want to focus on for Humanities this year is the “creative communicator” standard. I feel pretty confident with my writing ability, but I want to try and expand my range a bit, and focus on feeling equally confident with different forms of communication, or with thinking outside the box when it comes to approaching projects and assignments. I think this skill will also carry over into my other classes and generally be a benefit to other areas of my life.

Second of all, the habit of mind I wanted to focus on, for which I said this:

The habit of mind I really want to focus on for PGP is remaining open to continuous learning. A lot of the basis of this course– doing self assessments, setting specific goals and making plans to achieve them, etc. –is stuff I don’t enjoy doing, or find frustrating, even though it’s important to know how to do and do well. I want to make sure I keep an open mindset and put my best efforts into doing well in this course, rather than immediately shutting down because I have to do something I’m not good at.

Both of these have the same central point: I want to take more responsibility to see that I’m actually pushing myself to learn and grow, rather than stagnating within my comfort zone. In my MPoL and TPoL last year, I delivered some goals that I think also both relate back to this point: learning to roll with the punches, and further developing my interpersonal skills. I think the fact that I needed to set and work on both of those goals reflects the fact that I don’t always make enough of a conscious effort to push myself.

In PGP this year, we’ve been reading a book that talks about setting and completing goals. Personally, I didn’t enjoy this book. It felt kind of frothy and unsubstantial, and when I went through the goal-setting exercises it contained, they felt equally frothy and unsubstantial.

WHAT I REALLY WANT 

Make a “Top Five List” of what you really want—not what others (parents, friends, teachers, the media) seem to want for you. Focus on what’s truly meaningful to you. Write your “Top Fives” into sentences that start with the words “I really want.” Then turn each “want” into a SMART goal.

I really want to do well at school.

Smart goal: I will get no lower than a B in any of my classes this term, and in order to ensure that happens I will do all my homework on time and use time-blocking to set aside time to do homework and study before tests. 

I really want to get my full driver’s licence. 

Smart goal: I will pass the test to get my N, and later my full licence, and to prepare for that I will attend driving classes, read up on driving laws and good habits, and practice driving with an adult. 

I really want to go to business school. 

Smart goal: I will get into a business school, and in order to do that I will get good grades in all my classes (see above), research the requirements for different business schools in Canada, and submit applications to schools I’m interested in attending before the application deadline. 

I really want to stay fit. 

Smart goal: I will attend either boxing or hockey at least three times a week, drink water throughout and just after these activities, and ensure that I am eating healthy foods. 

I really want to get better at drawing.

Smart goal: I will practice drawing at least once a day, and use the resources available to me to research how to improve. 

MY GOAL LADDER

My goal: Get my N

My deadline: Winter 2019

Goal ladder:

  • practice drive at least once a week
  • go to in-classroom driving class 
  • go to in-car driving class 
  • read any available materials to help learn the laws & how to drive 
  • pass the test 

MY EXTENSION LADDER

My goal: Go to business school

Deadline: September 2020

  • decide what schools I want to apply to 
  • research business school requirements and tuition
  • attend any available presentations/informational meetings at school or in the area 
  • save up money to pay tuition fees
  • get good grades, especially in subjects that will pertain to the programs I’m applying for (like math)
  • visit university campuses to find out more about different universities and programs 
  • look into scholarships that might be applicable 
  • apply for scholarships 
  • do written applications for schools I might want to attend
  • get recommendations 
  • decide what school I want to attend 

I’VE EARNED IT

When I get back a good grade on a test or project I will celebrate by watching an episode of my favourite tv show.

When I get my driver’s licence, I will celebrate by going out to dinner.

That being said, I’m going to lay aside my dislike of this book for a moment and go through the forms we were supposed to fill out for the goal I’m currently trying to set. First of all, making it into a smart goal.

Now, I really want to push myself. That’s a big goal. The way I want to break it down for now is with the assignment we’re currently doing for socials, which is another set of blog posts like the ones we did for the Crucible. For my first post, I’m going to make a video– and while there will still be a challenge in that this video is totally different from anything I’ve add recently, it feels like I might be heading down the same path of sticking to one area, just with videos instead of writing.

So– my smart goal is to do each part of this assignment in a different medium that requires me to further develop a skill I would usually not jump to use, and to get out of my comfort zone in order to deliver a product that I am satisfied with, and which I feel taught me something.

Second, a goal ladder for this goal.

– identify some skills/mediums which I want to further develop

– make a plan to incorporate said skills/mediums into this assignment

– use practice or research or ask for help in order to improve at said skills/mediums

– create a final product using said skills/mediums to a degree that I am happy with

Third, rewarding myself. I struggled coming up with rewards or celebrations that seemed appropriate for my other goals, and I find myself in a similar situation with this one– the reward for me, if any, is doing well on my work. However, because I’d like to follow the instructions here as clearly as possible, when  have completed this series of assignments, and if I feel that I’m sticking to my goal and have learned something, I will celebrate by making a batch of cookies.

Going forth into the second half of the year, I’m hoping to apply my larger goal in everything I do– hockey, boxing, drawing, driving. I want to come back for my TPoL able to say that I’ve really improved and grown this year, both in this class and in the rest of my life.

Until then–

Toodles.

(Insert 1950s Exhibition Here)

Hello, Internet.

So, it’s wintertime again. Christmas and New Year’s have passed, MPOLs are fast approaching, snow is welcome to fall anytime now, and our class has completed yet another Winter Exhibition . This year, our task was significantly different from previous years. First of all, we were working all together as a class in a sort of giant group project. Second, instead of coming up with an idea or solution to a problem and pitching it, we took all our learning from the unit we just did in Humanities and transformed it into an interactive performance piece.

As you might expect, this was quite the mammoth task. The last time we all had to work together as a class devolved into Lord of the Flies-style anarchy, so our general outlook going into this project was perhaps a little bleak. However, this time we were able to overcome our past failures and work together successfully.

We started out by assessing the constraints of the project and the information we had to incorporate. The subject matter we’d been studying had three main layers– the events of the Salem Witch Trials as portrayed in The Crucible; the communist witch hunt that took place in the 1950s (which was our main focus); and how both of the above connect to today. Our job as a class was to create and perform a cohesive story that clearly showed what was going on in the 1950s, while also connecting it back to the 1600s and forward to today. It also needed to have audience interaction throughout every section.

Based on this information, we began to plan out exactly what we were going to do, and divide up responsibilities for carrying out said plan.

We divided up our exhibition plan into seven stations, and related each station back to one or more major themes of our project.

The first station would show a soldier returning from WWII, and outline the benefits of the GI Bill.

The second station would show the soldier now in a tableau of typical suburban life, possibly a family buying a new appliance, to show the conformism and consumerism dominant in 1950s suburbia.

The third station would show the soldier being drafted for the Korean War, torn away from his happy suburban existence and not understanding why he had to fight in this war.

The fourth station would show an anti-communist rally, a sign of the public really starting to be aware of and unhappy about communism in America.

The fifth station would show the effects of the communist witch hunt and blacklist on people working in Hollywood (then Hollywoodland), who were largely targeted as potential communists.

The sixth station would show an alleged communist on trial by Senator Joseph McCarthy, a prominent anti-communist figure at the time, and the Chief Counsel Joseph Welch.

McCarthyism was the practice of accusing or condemning people with insufficient evidence, usually of subversion (although the term is also used more generally). McCarthyism came about as part of the red scare, and essentially consisted of a communist witch hunt, focussed on government officials or public figures like Hollywood stars and directors. The name was derived from that of Joseph McCarthy, a US senator who rose to power in 1950, and started the practice of McCarthyism in an effort to eradicate the communist spies he believed had infiltrated the US government. Prior to, and perhaps contributing to, the rise of McCarthyism, a few communist spies had already been discovered, notably Alger Hiss. The general public was very split on whether or not they supported McCarthy– many believed in his methods, and thought he was doing great things for America, but others found him to be extremist and unfair. Those who disliked McCarthy looked to the then-president, Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower, to stop him from accusing or condemning people unfairly or without evidence. However, for the majority of McCarthy’s reign Eisenhower did little to either support or stop him, and was said to outright refuse to engage with or sometimes even mention him. McCarthy’s power began to fall apart in 1954, when he started investigating and accusing people within the US army and administration, and Eisenhower was forced to address McCarthyism and attempt to bring it to an end. The US army worked to discredit Roy Cohn, a lawyer involved in McCarthy’s investigations, and Cohn’s assistant David Schine. McCarthy and Cohn ended up being accused of abuse of power, since they had worked to clear an easy path for Schine to get into the army, and be given special treatment, by use of threats and intimidation. As the final nail in McCarthy’s coffin, Eisenhower sent out a memo to the secretary of defense ordering that no department employees were to testify for McCarthy, regardless of who this would benefit, and that if McCarthy called them to testify they should ignore him. This wrecked the last of McCarthy’s credibility, and his career. He ended up turning to alcoholism, leading to his death in 1957.

The seventh station would feature an address from then-president Dwight Eisenhower, ending with the line “we can make America great” as an allusion to the political scene of today.

A lot of this was later changed or scrapped– the first two stations were melded into one and reset as a suburban family having a dinner party (with lots of jello), the Eisenhower speech was moved to the start, and the anti-communist rally was instead made a pro-communist rally. We also decided to have the Hollywoodland scene be set on a production of The Crucible, in order to allow us to directly include and comment on parts the play.

Because we were working in such a large group, we chose two DRIs to be in charge of the project and make sure everything ran smoothly. (Both of them did a great job.)

With all our ideas and plans in place, it was time to bring our vision to life. This required two main areas of work: building the sets, and writing the script.

While everyone was involved with both of these things, I spent the majority of my time working on the script. In order to make it as authentic as possible, I researched some 1950s slang and peppered it in. I also did a fair amount of editing, and spent time memorizing my lines– most of which, interestingly enough, were actually just lines from The Crucible, because I was a part of the Hollywoodland scene.

That was also an interesting scene to make props for, because they were actually allowed to look like props. We had a Bob-Ross-esque forest backdrop that we painted ourselves, a Hollywoodland sign made from cardboard letters, and a series of trees– some real (and very heavy) potted ones, and some fake ones that we borrowed from the drama room.

We also had a bit of a stage set up to do the in-story acting on– in one unfortunate moment, part of it unexpectedly collapsed beneath me, breaking one of the fake trees, and causing me to scream a small amount of bloody murder.

This wasn’t the only technical difficulty we faced in trying to set up the exhibition– we also had to improvise a wall last minute when the mechanical walls in the gym didn’t work, leaving us to divide our stations with some choir shells and a massive amount of black curtains. However, things ended up working out okay, since having smaller “wall” pieces actually allowed us a lot more control over how we set things up.

The exhibition itself went really well– we had four people acting as guides who led the audience through every station and acted as a consistent character called Charlie Powell whose story helped tie everything together.

In the first station, the audience watched President Eisenhower deliver a speech about how America could move on from World War II into a new and better age. The speech introduced and gave an overview of many of the topics important to the later scenes. It also helped engage the audience and give them a window into the world they were about to be immersed in.

The audience then moved on to the next scene, where they, and Charlie, were guests at a house party being thrown by a suburban couple called Patrick and Susan. In this scene, the audience got to hear a little bit about the GI Bill, have a glimpse into the nuclear family, and get a taste of 1950s consumerism, as well as 1950s food. One of the audience members, chosen at random, was also handed a Polaroid picture of Patrick, Susan, and a blender. The pictures were taken on each run-through, and given to the audience immediately afterwards.

From the party, the guide and audience made their way out into the street, where a group of communist protesters was trying to rally forces to support their cause. The protesters explained the witch hunt that was taking place in America at the time, and made the case for communism. In the end, they gave the guide a pamphlet about communism, which he then quickly handed off to an audience member.

From there, the audience continued making their way through the suburban streets, where they encountered two military officers trying to recruit soldiers to fight in the Korean War. Charlie got into an argument with the military officers, and ended up getting a draft letter, but moved on quickly to the next scene and handed the draft letter off to an audience member rather than reporting for duty. This scene reflected the country’s disinterest in the Korean War, which was a proxy war and thus seen by many as not really directly an American issue.

In the interest of getting away from the military officers, Charlie and the audience quickly hurried onto the set of The Crucible, where an upset cameraman and actor were waiting for Charlie to play Abigail. They talked about how their director, Michael Gordon, can no longer work on the film because he’s been put on the Hollywood blacklist– a list of people banned from working in Hollywood because they were believed to be communists. One of the audience members was given a clapboard and asked to help direct, and another was given free tickets to see the premiere of The Crucible. Charlie and the actor playing John Proctor began to do their scene, but midway through they were interrupted by a cop who accused Charlie of being a communist, and dragged him and the audience members to a senate hearing.

At the hearing, Josephs McCarthy and Welch attempted to provide evidence to support their claim that Charlie was a communist. After mentioning a somewhat communist-related tattoo Charlie bore, they turned to the audience, who were able to use the items from the previous stations as evidence (Anton Chekhov would have been proud). Despite some actual evidence being provided, the guide was dismissed by Joseph Welch, who claimed insufficient evidence, and then asked Joseph McCarthy whether he was completely void of decency. With the hearing done, the audience was able to leave– but not without experiencing one last element of the exhibition: a video compiling every time Trump has used the term witch hunt during his presidency, set to the backtrack of I Put A Spell On You.

All in all, I think this was the best exhibition our class has ever done. We worked together well as a whole group, incorporated multiple very in-depth topics, and did enough script-writing, set-making, and acting for a theatre class. I do wish we had had a little more time to memorize our lines, especially for the guides who had to be in every scene and often had a lot of attention on them, but with some occasional improv I think everyone did a fine job even so.

I really enjoyed learning about the 1950s, especially because we got to learn about people’s everyday lives, and it was easy to draw some clear connections to today (and to the 1600s, apparently). I would happily do a similar style of project for our next exhibition.

Toodles.

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