So, as I said, I’d be talking a lot about how screwed up things are right now. And like, yeah, that’s easy enough to do. But what about the good things that come out of that? If Zoom’s done one good thing, it’s letting people let their guards down.
There was a hot minute back in the spring where everyone had this idea of Business As Usual. You were expected to come into calls dressed up as you would’ve been in real life, and keep all the manners and social norms of that bygone era.
As summer and fall passed, I noticed something: there were fewer and fewer cameras on in Zoom calls. And when they did come on, people were often dressed comfortably, some in pyjamas outright. Our rooms are on display, clean or otherwise. We’re vulnerable, but at some point, our camraderie in this hellish year overcame old world formalities.
I mean, really. I’ve spent the past eight months getting sneak peeks at my profs’ homes and housemates. It’s surreal.
And while I have a whole lot of feelings about whether or not people should be obligated to show themselves like that, one pleasant consequence has been that everyone’s showing off their pets. Sometimes by accident. Many a cat has walked across some unfortunate soul’s keyboard.
As someone with two cats, I’ve been that unfortunate soul many times. But also, it gets a laugh out of people and it’s a nice reminder that there’re still good things in this world.
In fact, sometimes, when I don’t feel up to appearing on camera, I put my laptop on the floor in front of one of my cats. With the seasons changing, they tend to relax in front of space heaters and on top of vents, so they’re great for still footage.
Heck, it’s just nice seeing what people will put on camera in general. Folks get creative! The other day, I was on a call, and when one of my friends went to do something, she put a Kirby plush in her place. It was adorable.
Overall, don’t get me wrong, I hate just about everything going on right now, but at least we find things to smile about.
So, as I mentioned in a recent post, Andrew McLuhan is holding a contest for a Distant Early Warning playing card set. And all we had to do was write all about how fucked things are.
Here’s one of many posts about that. Introducing… my 2020 workspace.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “There’s a lot going on here.”
And, yeah, you could say that. But I swear, every little item here has a purpose.
For example, that entire shelf about my laptop? Fidget toys. A whole bunch of fidget toys. I have squishies, fidget spinners, worry stones, and a whole bunch of other things that keep my hands occupied while I’m on a call. See, I’m neurodivergent, in case you haven’t noticed, and one thing about this is that my body craves movement. Throughout the day, I often get up and pace around my room, letting my thoughts run wild. It’s a lot of fun.
But it’s also not very socially acceptable during Zoom calls. So I fidget.
Below that, you can see my laptop, which is now my central hub for all work, play, and academia. On the left you can see my mic, which I bought to use for recording music and the like but now use every day to talk to my peers, a notebook for notes, and also a little SFU sheet, just so I don’t forget that, yes, all these hours spent with talking heads are academic work.
To the right are my physiotherapy weights and a glass of water, because health is important. I have some joint inflammation, and do daily exercises to keep my wrists functional. I also try to stay hydrated. You can also see my agenda in this shot! Which is, as always, obscenely packed.
Speaking of, I have another call to get to. Until next time!
So, it’s technically Week 11 for my Publishing class, because we started a week late. As Tuesday classes do, because of how the semester is.
But starting tomorrow, I’m in Week 12 of my first semester at SFU.
What? Huh? How did that even HAPPEN?
Anyways, let’s get into it.
TIP: Don’t Set Your Plans In Stone. Clay Does The Trick.
So, I think I officially know what my degree is going to look like.
I’m a Communication and Interactive Arts Major, with a Minor in Publishing.
Hopefully. Fingers crossed.
For a while, I was looking at the Contemporary Arts minor, too, but I think I’ll get by without it. I also was intrigued by the Creative Writing certificate, but I remembered I kind of hate studying poetry and fiction in an academic setting. As for Publishing? Well, thanks to my major, I’m technically almost halfway through a minor already.
I had a whole crisis about it last night. The same way I do about most of my creative endeavours. I think to myself, THIS has to happen THIS EXACT WAY in THIS EXACT TIME.
But really, how often is that actually feasible?
Like, I was going to try querying my novel this year. Ten months later, and I’m up to my neck in more revisions, because I thought of so many ways it could be better.
Do I still want to start querying again? Yes, but maybe sometime in the next year or two. Much like how I still want to graduate, but only now has my degree taken shape.
Be like clay. Have a path, but have it be malleable. It’ll save you a lot of headache.
TRIAL: Non-Evaluative Language
So, this week, I had my second meet with one of the two playwriting cohorts I’m in. Why am I in two? Well, I love excess.
Anyways, this one in particular practices “non-evaluative language.” This means we avoid words like “love,” “like,” “good,” “bad,” “strong,” “weak,” and so on. We’re more about what catches our attention, what questions we have, and so on.
I remember being terrified of this at first. How was I going to know if my work was good if people didn’t say it was good?
But as it turns out, you can gauge a lot from the non-evaluative things people say. It becomes less of a review and more of an excavation, as they get close and precise with their commentary.
And you don’t need an archeologist to say, “Wow, that’s a great pottery fragment” to know they think it’s deeply fascinating, do you? You can see that in how they describe the era it’s from, how it was made, and what it was used for.
Evaluative writing is kind of like that. It’s an excavation of passion for someone’s work. Like, look at how much I got down.
Rec: Yeah, No, I’m Really Fried From Studying So Can I Just Recommend Schitt’s Creek Again?
Genuinely, I am toast. I was up until 3am last night, partially because I’d put off reading Marx for so long. Yeah, it’s gotten to a point where I’m putting off reading Marx. Dire straits, everybody.
So, I think I talked about Schitt’s Creek back when I had the Create/Consume model for my blog, which was a nightmare, and I atone for it every day. But really, this is one of the most sincere, loving, and hilarious shows I’ve ever watched, and an excellent finals-season binge. Considering my midterms-season binge is Bojack Horseman, my standards might be low, but watching this made me feel good. And as a gay person, it made me feel seen. David Rose is probably one of the most relatable characters on TV for me, for better or worse.
Anyways, I just finished a rewatch with my parents, and the finale never fails to get me emotional. I won’t spoil, but if you want a feel-good show where every line hits and you can’t stop smiling. Also, Catherine O’Hara is there and she’s hilarious.
So, Andrew McLuhan was our guest lecturer today. You know, McLuhan. As in Marshall McLuhan.
Did I geek out? You could say that.
But besides my being a comms student and finding all of that to be inherently very cool, he was also just a really neat guy to listen to and have in our call!
Also, expect a lot more posts this next week and a bit. He said there’s a raffle of sort, and I can enter by making posts about how, in his words, “fucked” things are.
Great news. I’m really good at that.
The prize, for the record, is a copy of McLuhan’s Distant Early Warning playing card deck.
Do I know any card games beyond Go Fish? Absolutely not. But oh, who wouldn’t want a copy of the DEW cards?
So, as the title here implies, this first entry is about Zoom ettiquette. Really, it’s about the acknowledgement of it. Humans are social creatures, so we’re quick to create social norms, but isn’t it strange how many new norms a new form of media gives us?
Because really, Zoom is a new medium. Sure, we’ve had Skype and the like, but Zoom holds a whole other connotation. It’s for academics, work, and casual calls alike. It’s not something you do after hours; it’s where you SPEND those hours.
And that comes with a whole bunch of new social rules and norms.
For example: camera on or off? I have some friends whose profs make cameras compulsory. Most of my classes, meanwhile, are our prof speaking to the void, save for maybe one or two brave souls. My prof for this class compared us having our cameras off to “closing a shutter” on her. Which is fair. But also, doesn’t it feel oddly intimate to show everybody the innards of your personal space?
Like, for one example: I’m an out lesbian, but there’re some occasions where I’ll keep that to myself. You know, because homophobia still exists. While in class today, I at one point moved my laptop to the floor to capture footage of my cat (I’ll do a whole article about Cat Cameras later). As I moved, you could very clearly see the pride flag I have on my wall.
I don’t know why, but that kind of struck me. That’s what made me realize, “Oh hey, these people are totally in my space. That’s weird.”
There’re definitely worse things to have accidentally appear on camera, but still.
Anyways, I actually already wrote a whole article about students and cameras, so these are just some of my thoughts. I wonder what we’re going to do when we can meet in real life again. Will it feel strange, total strangers having an unrestricted view of us? I think so.
But hey, c’est la vie. I’m already hyping myself up to be perceived by others again.
So, last week, I kinda went off about comparing and contrasting different analytics tools in different social media forms and stuff.
Today, we looked at Google Analytics in particular. Y’know, the analytics tool attached to this very blog.
I learned a lot of things: just how many visitors I get, how long they stay, that I have a middle-of-the-road bounce rate, what a bounce rate is, and so on.
What I enjoyed the most was probably the audience behaviour tab, which showed exactly which paths site visitors took. It’s weirdly satisfying, following users on their little adventures. Like watching someone tour around a gallery show you’ve put together!
It’s wild being able to access some of the other things, too. Like the exact type of smartphone someone is using.
We also talked about Google, because that’s inevitable in any talk about analytics and SEO. Google, as my prof said, is the “queen bee” of the latter.
And, to be fair, SEO is a big deal. It’s worth talking about. It gets you where you need to be. You can learn what keywords are being used in your kind of content a whole number of ways, too: comparing to other sites in your niche, using specialized cites, and probably more.
Now, my blog is a hot mess (I’ll get into why in either an upcoming process post or my next essay. Get excited, I talk about vulnerability and mental illness), but I imagine I’d use phrases like “art tips”, “writing tips,” “emerging artist,” or “art advice”… things along those lines. Heck, I might try adding them to my home page.
And of course, another nifty trick with SEO is getting a lot of link activity with reliable sources. Get that network flowing. I link sources here pretty liberally to whatever I’m talking about, so I’ve got that down. As for other places linking me? Well, maybe someday. A gal can dream.
But let’s look back at Google. Again, it’s SEO royalty. There’re other search engines, but really, do you want to pick getting into Bing’s good graces over Google’s?
Also, there’re lots of ways to get INTO Google’s good graces. If you used Google Plus (haha, remember that?), or using the link shortener, it’d help you out in the long run.
Another direct quote from my prof: “You want to make Google happy. You want it to reward you.”
Do you ever think about how wacky Google is? Like, really, it’s THE monopoly. And it’s always expanding what it does. It’s a search engine, a social media, a phone, it has apps… it’s insane.
I guess we allow it because it does its job just that well.
(Save for Google Plus.)
One day, maybe, it won’t have all the power it does.
If that happens, maybe using Ecosia will be a bit more commonplace.
Yep, the semester is just about over. I’ve started my final project in my Interactive Arts course, and my Communication final unit is underway, and my courses are lined up for January. Can you believe January is so close? Like, a month and a half away.
Remember this January? We were so naive.
Whatever the case, everyone’s buckling down for the inevitable. It’s insane. It’s terrifying. I just want to live, y’know?
Let’s get into this.
Tip: Tips and Tutorials Have Merit, Even If They’re Out Of Your Comfort Zone
So, I don’t think I have to go on about the merit of tips and tutorials, considering my blog content. 40% of every post is a tip.
But the emphasis here is on even if they’re out of your comfort zone. Because at the end of the day, many skills, especially artistic crafts? You usually end up narrowing down. For example, I’m a writer, but I specialize in a few specific “voices”: Young Adult/Adult fiction, free verse poetry, and the occasional journalistic article tone. It’s happened in music, too: I tend towards a certain type of composition, mixing, and so on.
It’s one thing to look up tips on how to hone these particular skills. I can stay in my comfort zone all I want. That’s easy, and relatively consequence-free.
But you end up stuck in a certain way, don’t you? You fall into a certain voice, a certain way of using your tools.
This might be controversial, but there’s a LOT of merit in going outside your genre or pushing your medium to the brink, to the very edge of your comfort zone. I think you can do it with just about anything, especially if this is something you’re good at. When you get good at something, you tend to specialize.
Musician? You’re going towards one genre.
Writer? One literary form.
I mean, even STEM folks specialize eventually. What’s stopping you from diving into a textbook just outside your field? (You know, besides the fact that we’re all overworked right now and textbooks are expensive.)
But like, really. It’s kind of fun looking at how slightly different practices use the tools you’re so well-acquainted with. Back when I was a Journalism student, I was mystified by the way words weren’t for painting scenes, but dictating them. It’s almost like the image was… pixelated. It’s about the shape and sharp facts of the scene, delivered as briskly as possible.
It was a challenge, getting into that voice for every assignment. Journalist Alex and Writer Alex are two very different people. They wouldn’t get along. I mean, look at me. I’m a rambler, and I use figurative language like it’s the reason I get up in the morning.
But by becoming acquainted with the journalistic style, I unlocked a whole skillset, and it also made me a better writer overall, because I got to seeing the value of words quite differently. Would I have been able to write as a journalist my whole life? Absolutely not. But again, it taught me a lot.
TRIAL: A Freewrite With ABSOLUTELY No Prompt
So, I’m in a playwriting mentorship. Two, actually. It was almost three, but I decided to pace myself. Last night, we did something that always felt way scarier than it actually is: a promptless freewrite.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: isn’t the point of a freewrite to write whatever you want?
And yes, yes it is. But normally when I do freewrites with other people, like, timed freewrites? There’s at least a prompt or some effort to set the mood. Usually it’s a few words, sometimes it’s a full-on guided meditation.
“Okay, we’re going to do a five-minute freewrite. We can check back when my alarm goes off.”
It was terrifying. But I ended up doing it!
But also, I never want to do it again.
I’m also not sharing this one, because honestly, I have no idea what any of it means. I think it’s a metaphor for overly protective parents? But also, who knows! Life is a mystery!
Rec: Cats Are Cute Has Saved My Sanity
So, does anyone remember Neko Atsume? That really popular app from 2015 or so where you put food and toys out to see which cats visited your yard?
Yeah, I played that app obsessively. Or, well, as obsessively as you can. Due to its format, you could only really use the app for a few seconds at a time: you put out food and toys, and then you had to close the app and come back later to see if any cats were brought over.
I have many a fond memory of Neko Atsume. I played it at my high school’s Junior Dance because I hated everyone there. I nicknamed all the cats after characters in a novel I was writing.
This isn’t about Neko Atsume, but rather, a spiritual successor that takes me back to those simpler times: Cats Are Cute. It’s free with microtransactions, like literally every game on the App Store these days, but you can get pretty far without having to pay a cent.
Unlike Neko Atsume, you also get to interact with the cats! You feed them, pet them, play Hide and Seek and Rock Paper Scissors… it’s something I’m probably enjoying a bit too much, but I have no regrets. I think I have a favourite cat: her name is Doremi, and she lives at the piano shop.
(Oh, yeah, every cat lives in a special, personalized building. And they’re all cute.)
The app is honestly a great respite from exhausting Zoom calls, and maybe it’s my neurodivergent brain talking, but it’s also a really satisfying sensory experience. Every tap of the screen counts as Experience Points, so I can have the app open and idly drum my fingers along.
I know this isn’t the most typical recommendation, but I’ll be real, school has me fried. I think I’ve earned a day of gushing about this cute little kitty app.
Anyways, I’m going to go play Hide and Seek with some cats and pretend finals season isn’t looming over me!
Hello, everyone! It’s time for another Peer Review. This one is specifically about audience and marketability, which is fun.
Let’s get into it. Today, we’re looking at Musings of a Middle Child, run by my classmate, Kayla!
First of all, I know this isn’t what we’re touching on, but I just adore this blog’s theme. It has an ANIMATED header! That’s so cool! It’s honestly kinda mesmerizing!
There’s also a little subscription tab, and a Goodreads widget, and overall it looks very professional. The whole thing even kind of fits this nice, forest colour theme? Overall, it’s a treat.
(Dammit, I really should’ve done a book blog this semester.)
But this is about audience and marketability, so let’s look at that.
First of all, it’s really great as a general book blog. Like, really great. It’s all about personal opinions, and seems to have a tendency towards listicles, which are very easy to read: favourites of 2020, exciting future releases, least favourites (FINALLY someone else who hates Sarah J. Maas and specifically the first three Grishaverse books AND The Red Queen! All objectively bad!!!)…
Again, listicles are great, in my experience. Easy to read, easy to write, and perfect for bite-sized entertainment.
Another thing that I think really helps this site’s audience engagement is that there’s not only a contact page, but a reason to USE it: Kayla here is open to review requests!
Actually, there’re a lot of little widgets that’re great for that kind of engagement. Again, the Goodreads and subscription tabs? Great! I’m honestly taking notes in my head about how much Kayla’s done right. Like, this isn’t just a review site, but it’s a person running a review site who’s open to basically any kind of interaction.
I guess if I had to say anything of the constructive nature, it’d be that it would be neat if there were more actual reviews on the site. I imagine that’s what Kayla’s GoodReads is for, but right now all that comes up on the site’s Reviews tab is this piece about Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater, of Raven Cycle fame.
It’s really well-done, and it’d be cool if this book review blog had more full, detailed book reviews! Don’t get me wrong, listicles are great and I don’t think anyone would mind having that be a majority of the blog, but I feel like there should be at least a few more proper reviews. Just for the sake of consistency, y’know?
Overall, though, I had a great time checking out this blog! I’m probably going to add Kayla on GoodReads now! Because, again, I love how that’s a little widget, and it looks like we have fairly similar taste!
So, today we talked a lot about ads and analytics and making money off your website. I’m mostly gonna reflect on analytics, because that’s something I can speak on from two different perspectives: that of a small creator, and that of the average consumer.
So, I know this whole blog is dedicated to my tips and trials as an artist, but if you’re new here: I’m an artist. A small, emerging, part-time artist, but an artist nonetheless. I did a whole series of festivals this summer, and I regularly post music and poetry online, alongside regularly updating my digital novel, Freakspotters.
Point is, I’m all over. And I use a whole lot of social media to share my work! This means I spend way too much time mooning over analytics. Why? I guess they’re neat, is all.
I mean, so many of them tell you so many different things. Like, first, look at Instagram. It’ll give you both a general look at how your account is doing, AND insights on specific posts. You can compare and contrast different pieces of content, and also get a broader look at your account as a whole.
But do I care about that? Honestly, not really. I’m not looking for maximum engagement. I’m having fun.
You know my favourite analytics app, though? Spotify For Artists.
It’ll tell me where people are, a bit about them, and, when I open the app, it even shows me if any people are listening at that moment! That’s so cool to me.
Also, it tells you when your tracks are doing well. For example? I released a collab album with a more popular artist a while back.
Can you guess when on the graph it was?
I’ll be real, though. I don’t know what to do with most of the information I’m given. I’m a smaller, more casual creator, really just having fun and seeing where things go.
Like, look at Tiktok. What am I supposed to do with information about when my followers are active, down to the hour? Maybe an influencer could us that, but not me. It honestly feels kind of intrusive. The most I ever did with this stuff was joke about how about 90% of my audience is women.
I have… no use for this.
But as a consumer? I know who does: the platforms I create on. I mean, they’re the ones that gather all this information. The ones that give it to me.
And of course, pretty much always, this information (and more) is used to personalize the ads and content that show up on my feed.
Look at Google, with its personalized ads. Look at YouTube, always recommending new channels and the like. Look at Twitter, with its whole tab about my interests.
Twitter also tried to guess my gender. And failed.
And of course, there’s Tiktok, where the algorithm is so intense you get “sides” of Tiktok that you end up on by interacting with the right kinds of videos. There’s a “gay Tiktok,” and I’ve been on it since I got the app.
I feel like I should be mortified, but really, this has been a thing for as long as I can remember. Even when I was in elementary school, I was getting personalized ads for flash game collections and adoptable pet sites. And when it’s not offsite ads, it’s an algorithm learning your patterns so you’ll spend more time there, generating more money.
And does it work? Yeah, sometimes. Regrettably, my curiosity gets piqued from time to time, and I’ll follow someone or click a video that’s recommended to me.
It’s honestly like a form of nihilism. The ads and analytics already know where I live. Unless I go totally off the grid, they’ll continue to cozy up to me.