Roma, by Alfonso Cuaron. I just finished. A masterpiece. The best movie of the year (2018). Maybe of the decade. And in black and white, better than color. In Spanish (with a lot of Oaxacan as well). Cuaron’s story of growing up in a tony area of Mexico City, the Roma neighborhood in 1970. It follows Cleo, the maid as the family, the city, her friends and the times swirl around her in a dizzying rhythm. The noise, the world, all impinge on her quiet soul. And the actress. The only word I can think of is beatific.
I am 6 years older than Cuaron. My family traveled in Mexico the summer of 67, just 3 years before this movie was set, so I was the age of the oldest brother in this film. There were 4 kids in the family, much like mine. I remember vividly visiting my mother’s friend and her family in Cuernavaca. A similar situation. All of those details resonated with me. Cuaron, as a kid, was a superlative observer.
The detail in the movie is astounding. Watching dozens of art-house flicks when I was in Barcelona helped me understand the graphic language of black and white movies, the subtle connections beween worlds. The airplane, the dog shit, the car, the “poza” (pond) and the water, and a half dozen other things. It had me on the edge of my seat through all 2 and a quarter hours, even though it was a relatively normal family for that time.
I fell in love with Joan Didion when I read The White Album. Maybe college, or shortly after. She was such a good observer. Wordmaster, yes. But above all, she was courageous. She reached down deep to the center of her being and pulled it out, and allowed everyone to see. The essay in The White Album about migraines. The one about water in California. The one about the Black Panthers, and then one about Doris Lessing. If we look carefully at the treatment of all these diverse subjects, we see her reflecting, shaping.
She continues revealing herself with this documentary on Netflix. She is frail, but her mind is still as sharp as ever. We get glimpses of the comedy and the tragedy of her life as her nephew feeds her questions to continue the dialog between her and the reader. Continually surprising (watch what she thinks about discovering a 5-year old on acid in the Haight (SF) of the 60’s). Yes, she is self-absorbed at times, but she is still observing and showing how she observes and tells it how it is, deep down, not just how it appears.
I have been lax, but am happy to be able to read her most recent 2 books even though they are real downers, about the tragedy and impermanence of life. Almost Buddhist. The title (The Center Will Not Hold) comes from a Yeats poem, The Second Coming (“the centre cannot hold”), which ends with the line about Slouching Towards Bethlehem, the title of the collection of Didion’s essays just before The White Album.
I have been delving into Interactive Fiction lately, becoming more consumed by both reading (watching, playing) branching fiction stories (Choose Your Own Adventure, or CYOA) and the like. Zork is probably the first digital instance of branching fiction. There is an annual competition of IF stories (record 72 submissions) you can try out if you like.
I also read a lot of science fiction, the latest being D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson (my favorite author) and Nicole Galland, collaborator with Neal and 4 others on The Mongoliad Trilogy (another kind of interactiveness). D.O.D.O. is a story about magic, and its recursive recovery and application in modern times through time travel. A very complicated treatment of time travel, with varios threads of the story intertwining like the infinite branches in the universe.
I teach a course that uses Twine for students to create their own interactive fiction. I find it the easiest of the different story engines (word processors for branching fiction) out there.
So when I saw this video, it made me happy to see a physicist treat the plots of time travel movies in such a logical way. This is important to both Interactive Fiction (IF) and storytelling.
I am so excited to learn about Digital Storytelling, a way to express myself on the web using all of its capabilities. Since I teach English in Tokyo with technology, I am looking forward to integrating this into my seminar class with my best students in our new academic year starting in April.
Just a quick note, I have two other sites where student work is regularly posted. ShowaELC is for news about our university (Showa Women’s) and our English Department (ELC, or English Language and Communication). LanguageJapan is for student input from my (and my friend’s) classes. These are mostly audio and video podcasts, with the focus on explaining things about Japan to people who speak English, from the point of view of a university student.
The Digital Storytelling MOOC (Massively Online Open Course) is my third in a row. I collaborated with 1,300 other teachers online last fall in a great course on building a Personal Learning Network (PLE) called PLENK. As that ended, I started a much smaller, simpler collaboration (most would not call it a MOOC, but an online book discussion) centering around Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. The Rose in Winter has been a bit of a disappointment as the interactivity level could be more robust, but it did allow me to bounce my thoughts off others, and for me to learn other viewpoints. Still, with such a rich book for discussion, it has been a whole new way for me to read fiction.