Swimming in a Media Sea

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post and an even longer time since I’ve written one pertinent to my career interests.

Yesterday, I attended Ingenguity’s Media Arts Summit. For three hours, directors from media arts organizations from across Chicago met to address ways in which collaborations between schools and organizations could be formed and strengthened. Ingenuity Inc. has done some really impressive research on the varying states of art infrastructure in Chicago Public Schools and shared highly insightful and helpful resources, such as the artlook map and artlook partners interface.

As an initial activity and point of discussion, the event facilitators asked each organization representative to go around the room and indicate what media arts programs they provided. The categories included:

  • Audio & Digital Music
  • Cinema Studies
  • Design
  • Digital Media
  • Photography
  • Social Media
  • and Media Literacy

I understand that the exercise was intended to get a better sense of the services offered by the organizations present and I recognize that an awareness of such distinctions is important. But the framing of the activity made me reflect on my thoughts about media arts and media literacy in particular. While I respect media arts as a field and applaud the great work that is being done to ensure youth are given opportunities to express themselves multimodally, I believe media arts is a subset of media literacy and not the other way around.

From my experiences, media arts often eludes to the creative process involved in producing and sharing digital media artifacts. But to me, media needs to be recognized as so much more than just digital compositions and this expansive understanding of media needs to be an integral component of literacy across varied disciplines. When the term media is thought of as merely digital and placed within a specified art category, our understanding of the media’s impact on our lives is limited.

Stylistic ways to communicate stories and ideas may be explored in schools through media arts, but such expression is only one side of the coin. Everyone needs to understand that they also “read” a plethora of media messages every day… from the cereal box in the morning to the music playing while in transit to the reports read while on the job… media influence our values, understandings and actions. Without analyzing media texts and reflecting on the ways we interact with them, we will be susceptible to producer’s intentions, enforced sterotypes, and the common act of ‘seeing’ only messages that align with our perspectives or those of the privileged majority.

51U3c4tEHLL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_By integrating media literacy across all subjects there can be an increased effort to more deeply understand topics through diverse views and interpretations. As Winston Churchill stated, “history is written by the victors.” Textbooks and canonical literature, which take the forefront of traditional academic curricula, often tell the narrative of the victors or the majority. It is crucial to acknowledge that these texts are media messages. They were produced by someone for some purpose. They have embedded values and beliefs. Textbooks and classics should not be disposed, but rather acknowledged as a mere part of the larger media landscape.

I am passionate about holistically embedding media literacy in schools because I see a direct relation between our ability to critically consume information and our roles as informed and responsible citizens. With so much information ceaselessly surrounding us through billboards, magazines, social media and so forth, we get the elusion that we are adequately informed on a vast array of topics, but the information overload, personalized marketing techniques, and rapid speed of content creation and interaction lead us to have a more narrow and shallow experience with texts.

Its time to take a step back and see the water that we’re swimming in. Media are all around us. We consume, create, comment on and share information in a myriad of ways everyday. We need to be consciousness of the ways in which messages are impacting us and how our expressions may influence others. Beyond creating in the arts and reading in class, we need to question the world that we live in through constant deconstructions of media texts.

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The Tides of Time

The weather lately has been inconsistent and unpredictable. Like the billowing grey clouds and harsh warm rains that have fleetingly swept across the typically blue summer skies, my life has seemed to mirror the unsteady climate.

Just as I felt I was beginning to master the waning whirlwinds of transition, the resurgent waves of life events struck again, rocking me wild and ragged. The steady schedule I sought so hard to set came apart at the seems as trip after trip seeped into my calendar and happenings out of my control played out before me.

11707552_1111855965495170_8166054981701123487_nMy age and distance from home struck me as I sat alone watching a video of my youngest sister giving a high school graduation speech in June. Although I beamed with pride at the accomplished young woman on the screen in front of me, a bittersweet sadness set in as I recalled all the youthful moments we spent together growing up that had now turned into mere memories to look back on.

As time has proven, with age and developing identities we have begun to go on diverging paths which is both exciting and elusively isolating. The days of performing plays and playing pirates in the backyard are over, but I cling to hopes of future endeavors to pull me from the realms of reminiscing. I can’t wait to see what my sister has yet to conquer. She has already done so much and I often brag about the fact that she has earned a black belt in TaeKwonDoe, a certification in scuba diving, and two athlete of the year awards for soccer and track. Despite the states that will lie between us, I hope I can continue to support her and my other sister as they embark on their dreams.

My sisters mean the world to me and sometimes I struggle to state such significance in words.

11698783_10203254037951967_1487397412747753903_oThis July, the strongest storm that hit me came in hard and fast.

The presence of life itself dissipated into thin wisps of fragile air as I stood by helplessly and lost a woman who raised me to the cruelties of cancer.

One day I was speaking with her on her home phone, the next she was in the hospital and the next she was in Hospice waiting peacefully for her time to come. The speed of it all was startling. Yes, she had cancer, but she had beaten it twice before. I was supposed to see her at my sister’s graduation party. I was supposed to hug her tight and feel her warm, loving body pressed reassuringly against mine in a matter of weeks. The plan was to meet in NY in July. But plans don’t always pan out. From her passing I have been reminded of this. I have been harshly awakened to the precious commodities that constitute living.

Although Dawnie was not biologically related to me, she gave me love, support and nourishment that have contributed to what I know as happiness, success and belonging. Others may only understand her as being my babysitter when I was younger, but she was so much more than that. She was like a third grandmother to me who maintained a strong presence in my life throughout the years. Even though I didn’t get to hold her in my arms one more time, her spirit will remain with me through the waft of apple cinnamon candles, the gooey sweetness of fresh monkey bread and the creative details of homemade cards.

I admit the death of a loved one is jarring and painful and heart-wrenchingly saddening, but those who endure it gain a heightened sense of what remains… the settings, items, relationships and moments that string together to make our lives rich. While waves of grief still strike, I am also caught up in peaks of joy while toasting s’mores with my family around a campfire, belting out songs on the radio with friends, swaying solo in a hammock reading, and taking the time to reflect on it all.

The tides of time will continue to twist and turn and throw me about, but such turbulence is life, precious, unpredictable, savory life.

Chicago Livin’

My apartment
My apartment

I can’t believe it has already been over a month since I have moved to Chicago! I have been so busy and subsequently have neglected to write another blog post. To briefly sum up my experience thus far, it has been absolutely incredible. I am sincerely happy with the places, people and pursuits I have been involved with.

I am living in Buena Park, which is part of Uptown, a a neighborhood north of the city’s downtown (known as The Loop). I love the area because it has more of a small town feel with easy access to all the urban amenities. There is grand church on the corner of my street that plays lovely bells everyday, a library across the road from me, a posh bar next-door and a little wine and sandwich shop besides that. One of the greatest perks is that it is only a few blocks from the lake with an easy under-road pass to the lakeside trail. The pass itself is artfully decorated and leads to a little Peace Garden which in and of itself is nice.

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My two housemates, Rachel and Erica, are amazing. When I first moved in they had a welcome sign on the door and they have been nothing but inviting and genuinely kind ever since. I also share the premise with two furry friends, Henry Cat and Mortdecai who have been friendly and rather amusing at times.

The unit is super clean and gorgeous since it was recently renovated. Living with tidy and organized housemates has helped as well. An open concept layout in the front of the apartment makes is very light and roomy. And we all spend a good deal of time in the kitchen mass producing meals for each week. One of my first matters to address when I arrived was to set up my room, which I have used a coastal theme with. I am typing this post from the comfort of my cushy brown chair, which I made a priority of getting as soon as I got to the city.

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Luckily, the weather has been getting warmer and I have been spending a great deal of time outside the apartment. I have been training for another half marathon and running along the lakeside trail every other day. I joined a yoga studio nearby.  And I am also attempting to play in a beach volleyball league despite my lack of hand-eye coordination. So far, I have not made too much of a fool of myself (I hope) and I have enjoyed the fun playing atmosphere and camaraderie amongst my teammates. It has been a great way to meet new people and make more friends as well! When I’m not working out or working, I try to make the most of events going on in the city on the weekends and evenings too. I have been to three festivals over three weekends!

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Last weekend Adrienne, my dear friend from college, came to visit. She is currently attending grad school at the University of Michigan so it was just a long bus ride for her to get to the windy city. It had been so long since I had last seen her that I was thrilled to be able to spend some time together. Unfortunately for her, she was my guineapig for hosting since I am still so new to the city myself. Although I got us somewhat lost the very first night, I believe things got better as the weekend progressed. On Friday, we made sure to indulge in some deep-dish pizza from Gino’s East then moseyed around the Magnificent Mile for a little bit, gawking at the price tags in high end boutiques. We then went to a play my friend directed before calling it a night. Saturday, we started off the day with an incredible brunch at Inspiration Kitchen down then spent most the afternoon watching a humorous, witty comedy show called Paper Machete at the Green Mill where Nick Offerman stopped by to perform a few of his hilarious songs amongst several other highly talented acts spanning rock performance, puppeteering, and stand-up. The place was absolutely packed, but it was well worth it! Sunday, before Adrienne left, we made sure to cover the typical tourist sites in Chicago, snapping selfies in front of the bean sculpture in Millennium Park and dining at the Navy Pier (Margaritaville style). Although it seemed like it was going to rain all day, the weather held out for us and actually ended up being one of the nicest days of the weekend.

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IMG_2738This upcoming weekend I’m going beyond the borders of Chicago for my first time since living here to visit my incredible relatives (The Konesco crew) in Indiana. I’m ecstatic to catch up with my family and celebrate baby Molly’s baptism.

Summer seems to be getting into full swing and I cannot wait to experience all that lies ahead!

My Media Literacy Trip: Part 4

Chicago…

With over a week of traveling under my belt and some crazy New York occurrences I was feeling a little weary by the time the last leg of my trip approached. Fortunately, however Chicago is a predominantly new scene for me (I only visited once in high school) and I was meeting up with new connections, so I was rejuvenated by excitement.

New York City did not give me up without a fight and I still had to deal with a four hour flight delay, but my stress dissipated as soon as I sunk into the extremely comfortable bed at Hotel Blake.

Eager to learn about the media literacy initiatives in the Midwest, I first met with Mindy Faber, co-director of Convergence Academies, who told me about all the exciting work her team is engaged in. I then accompanied her out to Morrill and Tilden, two public schools they’re working with, to see Convergence in action! I was impressed by both the digital atelier spaces they built in each building and the fun, knowledgeable staff that worked with the teachers and students.

While in Chicago I also visited the YouMedia space in the downtown public library to check out the youth-centered site I had read so much about. Jennifer and Julie gave me a great tour and answered any questions I had.

Based on recommendations from Renee Hobbs and Jonathan Friesem, I made sure to reach out to Natalia Smirnoff, a current PhD student at Northwestern University who previously engaged in youth media work in Philadelphia, PA. We were able to meet up for drinks one night and we easily became lost in conversation. She told me about POPPYN, the Philly youth news group she helped develop and her ongoing connections with youth media activists in Chicago.

Towards the end of my visit in Chicago I met with Tony Streit who gave me a tour of Street-Level Youth Media, the organization he co-founded, and introduced me to Manwah Lee, the current executive director. The place was buzzing with energy as teens went about preparing for an open-mic show they had that night and even though Manwah was extremely busy with meetings, she took the time to speak with Tony and I, which I really appreciated.IMG_2655

Besides all the great networking I did, I also spent some time exploring the city. I shopped at Wicker Park, listened to live blues music at Buddy Guy’s Legends and ate a delicious caramel chocolate dessert at Meli Cafe.

Overall, my trip was a highly rewarding experience, even with some of the shortcomings I faced. I learned so much from the media literacy professionals I had the privilege to meet and hope to continue expanding my knowledge by surrounding myself with innovative, collaborative, caring people who are pushing boundaries and re-envisioning what we are capable of.

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My Media Literacy Trip: Part 3

Never Dull in New York City…

While I thought the crazy yoga session was a whirlwind, it was nothing compared to my time in New York City. My trip in on the train started serenely with a sunset that back-splashed the silhouetted skyscraper horizon a vivid orange and pink, but as soon as I stepped foot in Penn Station the calm was broken with people bustling by hurrying to get home from work.

I mostly stayed with my friend, Christine, out on Long Island where the hustle and bustle is at bay, however one night I was able to sleep over at my friend Sam’s apartment in Brooklyn. While the matter of where I stayed may seem a bit boring, the drama of my trip comes when I explain what happened during the day…

IMG_2620First, on my way in from Long Island to Brooklyn to meet up with Rhys Daunic from The Media Spot, I fainted on the train. Before I go further I will state that I am absolutely fine and I recovered quickly. However, being escorted off by a group of police then checked out by a team of paramedics on an ambulance was not exactly how I envisioned my morning. Rhys and his wife patiently waited for me to make it to Brooklyn and once I met up with them the rest of my day seemed to go rather well. I visited Taots and the Brooklyn School of Inquiry where Rhys provides media literacy consulting. It was so fascinating to see his diverse role meeting with the principal, teachers and at one point, even stepping in as a basketball instructor!

The following day I met up with Michelle CiullaLipkin, NAMLE’s executive director, who kindly treated me to a delicious brunch at a Manhattan diner. It was great catching up with her in person and as I got on the metro to visit Emily Bailin at Teachers College, I was feeling confident about navigating my way around the big city, despite my brief unconscious moment the morning before. But my reluctancy towards the city returned when I realized that my wallet was not on me. I rushed back to the diner, but had no luck finding it. Rather than meeting up with Emily, I spent the rest of the day canceling cards, filing a police report and obtaining a temporary license (which does not include a photo). My biggest concern was being able to finish my journey in Chicago… if I did not have a photo ID I could not fly! Thankfully my parents saved the day by overnighting my passport through FedEx.

*The next part of this blog post (coming tomorrow) will cover my time in Chicago.

My Media Literacy Trip: Part 2

Revisiting Rhode Island…

After my short Friday stay in Boston I was able to catch a ride with Chelsea to Providence, Rhode Island where I planned on taking a short train ride down to Kingston, but due to the lovely snow, the train was delayed two hours, making my wait time longer than the trip itself! When I finally made it down to the southern part of the state I was warmly greeted by Jonathan and Elizaveta Friesem, who I lived with while working for the Harrington School of Communication and Media and the Media Education Lab from 2012-2013. We reminisced on cherished times together and excitedly spoke about upcoming events this summer, including the NAMLE 2015 Conference and the Digital Literacy Summer Institute. Although I was not able to meet with Renee Hobbs this time since she was busy traveling, I do hope to see her this upcoming summer.

On Monday Jonathan took me to Narragansett Elementary School to see the progress Susan Sabella has made with her colleagues on promoting media and digital literacy in the classroom. A group of teachers has been attending the Digital Literacy Summer Institute and I was happy to see this summer’s event on their school wide calendar in the office. While at the school I IMG_2612met with the principal, Gail Dandurand and sat in on a meeting with the art teacher Krysten Bryce, who was brainstorming ways to use Twitter to further her practice and inform parents of classroom happenings. The day’s visit ended with a bang when I got to tour the library that Brien Jennings, the library media specialist transformed into an open, collaborative youth space that includes a recording room with a green screen. Student-driven learning was most definitely in-action and Brien easily moved from group to group offering assistance where needed. As we left the school we laughed as we saw the sign out front declaring Narragansett has had enough of this winter!

IMG_2676To combat the weary weather I decided to spice things up and try anti-gravity yoga with my friend Heather. Contrary to what one may first think when yoga comes to mind, this was no tranquil practice! I felt like I was training to become an aerialist as I flipped in and out of a swinging white sheet.

*The next part of this blog post (coming tomorrow) will cover my crazy time in NYC!

My Media Literacy Trip: Part 1

I recently embarked on a tour of four states to meet up with incredible media literacy professionals and experience first hand the great work they’re doing.

Since I finished my master’s program in December, I decided to take the trip to network and explore potential career opportunities. And I have to admit, I also have a travel addiction. I’ll use any excuse to explore new places and see old friends.

Boston Bound…

IMG_2591My first stop was Boston (since I was able to get a direct flight for only $59 – thanks JetBlue)! Upon arriving I was glad that I decided to wear my long down coat since the weather was quite frigid. More alarming than the temperature however, was the amount of snow! Although Boston has been competing with Buffalo on news coverage this winter, I often disregard such reports knowing they rarely measure up to the brute of Lake-effect flurries, but Boston really is buried! Despite the snow and cold, I was able to meet up with my dear college friends Lauren and Chelsea.

Although it was brief, I was able to get Paul Mihailidis to give me a tour of the Engagement Lab at Emerson College. The space is really neat and houses a computer lab, game room, meeting room, office area and a little lobby (where I was greeted by a friendly dog). Paul explained how they are continuing to grow and hope to expand their presence in the building with classrooms on the floor below. Beyond physical space, the Engagement Lab is also making gains online, most recently with the launch of the Civic Media Project, an innovative publication site.

*The next part of this blog post (coming tomorrow) will cover my visit to little Rhode Island, the state I called home from 2012-2013.