Love in Fragments: 4 Digital Moments

This summer, I spent some time re-visting footage of my dad talking about our family farm in the upper peninsula of Michigan. I was creating a series of digital shorts that focused on some of my favorite/most memorable farm stories for his 71st birthday. For more on the project, see my post or watch the digital shorts on my Vimeo page.

In the process of editing the 10+ hours of footage, I came across some random clips of playful, loving interactions between my mom and dad. I felt inspired/compelled to craft these fragments of love into brief, one-minute digital moments. These fragments are the initial inspiration for the digital moments project that I’m just beginning. 

Fragment One

Fragment Two

Fragment Three

Fragment Four

Keeping a Notebook

This morning, I came across Joan Didion’s great essay, “On Keeping a Notebook” (via Brain Pickings). Since I love to keep notebooks—virtual ones, like on this blog, and material ones, like the several dozen composition books that I’ve written in over the past 20 years, I was drawn to the brief essay. Quickly reading through it, I was inspired to stop and pause at her pithy and honest response to why she keeps a notebook: “Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point.” Yes! In reflecting on this statement, I decided to fashion it into a problematizer for my Staying in Trouble Tumblr:

This is a picture of my current writing and researching notebook. I use this notebook for jotting down my tentative ideas for blog posts, problematizers, digital accounts and more. Why do I do it? Partly for the same reason that Didion suggests. In my post, “An urgent need to document by process/ing,” I wrote about why I blog:

I think one of the reasons I write in this blog is to create a space where I am building up an archive of ideas and experiences that I can access, remember and engage with now or tomorrow or ten+ years from now. This archive not only serves as proof of my past/present/future existence, but it enables me to craft (and imagine?) and perform a self that endures through time, space and a range of sometimes contradictory experiences and that is connected through (rooted in? beside) past selves and to generations of family members and various communities.

Writing this blog post and revisiting my words about writing and remembering my self, raises a lot of interesting questions for me. I wish I had time to explore them now. Since I don’t, I’ll pose them with the promise of returning.


1. In her essay, Didion is careful to distinguish notebook writing from diary writing (which aims to be more factual and “true”) and public writing (which aspires to share and connect with others). The notebook writing to which she refers is private and intended for and perhaps only intelligible to her. How would we categorize blog/social media writing or recording? Does it blur the line between public and private? What does/should it aim to do? Where do I fit in my own blog writing versus my notebooks?

2. Later she writes:

Only the very young and the very old may recount their dreams at breakfast, dwell upon self, interrupt with memories of beach picnics and favorite Liberty lawn dresses and the rainbow trout in a creek near Colorado Springs. The rest of us are expected, rightly, to affect absorption in other people’s favorite dresses, other people’s trout.

Is documenting the moments/fragments of our lives an unacceptably selfish activity? Is it always merely/mostly self-absorption? Just about us (the “I”)?

Didion argues that notebooks allow us to remember our past selves, to keep in touch with those selves so that we don’t forget them and so that memories of them don’t pop up on us when we least expect them. She continues:

It is a good idea, then, to keep in touch, and I suppose that keeping in touch is what notebooks are all about. And we are all on our own when it comes to keeping those lines open to ourselves: your notebook will never help me, nor mine you.

I want to think some more about this last line and what it means for the private documenting of our lives and our past/present selves. My immediate reaction is to disagree with her statement; our notebooks can be helpful to others! They are archival material that might provide some insight into who we were and what we were thinking. I know that I partly write to offer/leave an account of who I am for my kids.

But, as I think over her claim more I wonder if Didion isn’t trying to create space for a self who can remain unintelligible to others. Our notebooks don’t need to make sense to others. We don’t have to always explain what we mean. We can have a space for documenting whatever fanciful (or questionable) idea we have without having to always temper it with the question: but, will this make sense to others? As someone who has a strong impulse to be intelligible to others (but still manages to never quite be able to), this idea of a space of unintelligibility is exciting.

Speaking of unintelligible, I want to end this post with a few images from my current journal:


Some Monday Reflections

Some days I look at my twitter feed and I don’t find anything that makes me curious or inspires me to ask questions and reflect. But, not today. I don’t know if it’s the 16 oz latte, my 2.5 mile jog at the YWCA, or the early snow that has my “little gray cells” working overtime, but I have a big list of items to think/reflect/trouble/write about on this snowy, cold Monday in November. At first, I was planning to write a series of blog entries on each topic, but I soon realized that that was too much. So instead, I’ve decided to create a post with just a few of the links, along with some reflections.

Item One

Did Jezebel cross the line by ratting out teens for their racist tweets?

Background: Shortly after President Obama was re-elected last week, some twitter users began tweeting their highly racist reactions. And the data-mapping experts over at Floating Sheep tracked and mapped them. This tracking, particularly how the map made visible where certain clusters of racism tweets existed (i.e. Alabama and Mississippi), was a popular topic on twitter, facebook, blogs and online news sources. A few examples: Map Shows You Where Those Racists Tweeting After Obama Election Live (Colorlines), The Racist States of America (Daily Mail UK) and Twitters Racists React… (Jezebel).

According to Slate, Jezebel took their tracking of the story too far, by not only publicly shaming the twitter users, who were primarily teens, but by

reaching out to the tweeters’ schools to get the kids in trouble (and, presumably, to gin up page views). They then meticulously noted each administrator’s response. They also updated us, gleefully, on the status of the students’ twitter accounts: Which kids were embarrassed enough to delete them? Which ones offered half-assed excuses? Which ones doubled down on their racism?

Here’s Jezebel’s follow-up post, detailing their efforts to contact the tweeters’ school officials in order to hold the tweeters accountable and in the hopes that the officials could “educate them on racial sensitivity.” In their critique of Jezebel’s actions, Slate author Katy Waldman, argues that a major media outlet like Jezebel is not the appropriate venue for meting out discipline. It not only punishes these “stupid kids” too severely for their lack of judgment (evidence of their mistake and the resultant shaming will exist for years online), but is more likely to piss them off and shut them down, then encourage them to be educated and accountable for their tweets. Here’s the closing line of the brief article:

Morrissey writes: “We contacted their school’s administrators with the hope that, if their educators were made aware of their students’ ignorance, perhaps they could teach them about racial sensitivity.” Perhaps. More likely, as my colleague put it in an email: “It probably won’t make them less racist if they’re bitter forever.”

Initially, I felt that the Slate article was a bit too harsh but now I’m not so sure. These tweets are abhorrent and the users who tweeted them should be held accountable, but these teens are minors and represent only a handful of individuals who contribute to (but have not created) the larger systems of structural racism in this country. To shame only these kids (or primarily these kids) enables us to ignore/suppress the larger structures of racism and to fail to consider all of the ways that racist attitudes continue to exist within this country. It’s much easier to focus our attention on a few “stupid kids,” then to face the reality that, as Colorlines’ author Jorge Rivas writes: “racists are everywhere.”

This Slate article raised some interesting questions for me:
1. How should we hold users, especially teen users, accountable for their tweets?
2. What sorts of resources are available for educators, parents, community members for learning how to be more accountable and responsible online?
3. After further reviewing comments from the Jezebel post, I came across this thread in which commenters discuss how they’re contacting school officials. One user refers to these actions as internet vigilantism.

Is “internet vigilantism” an effective tool for holding individuals accountable?

Item two

Two Random Encounters with Judith Butler

1. I found an excellent quotation (from a recent interview) on a great post by Michael D Dwyer about teaching pop culture. His use of this quote comes in a section of his post in which he discusses how we can be both critic and consumer of pop culture (this was a big focus in my pop culture class from 2007).

2. I learned about an advice book that Butler contributed to via this Brain Pickings post. This find is one of the reasons why, even as I am wary of Brain Pickings, I still follow them on twitter. Butler contributes an essay on “Doubting Love,” in the 2007 advice book, Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation. Looking forward to reading this one; I’ve already requested it from the Minneapolis Public Library! I’d like to think about this advice book in relation to my other research on the self-help industry.

Item Three

Well, I’m quickly running out of time (less than a half an hour before I must pick up RJP from school), so I can’t write much more. Why am I not surprised?! Here’s a In Media Res curated series on The Second Lives of Home Movies that I want to read and reflect on…and put beside my work on home tours.

Bonus Item

Inspired by the snow this morning (and by my desire to experiment with my new iMovie app), I created a digital moment: Minnesota Weather. I plan hope to write more about my thoughts and experiments with the iMovie app soon. For now, here’s my digital moment + my description of the story):

minnesota weather: a digital moment from Undisciplined on Vimeo.

I’ve lived in Minneapolis for the past 9 years (plus 4 years in St, Peter, MN for college and 18 months in Minneapolis in the late 90s) and I still haven’t gotten used to the unpredictable weather. Minnesotans always say, “Don’t like the weather? Just wait 10 minutes.” I was reminded of this phrase when I woke up this morning. Just last week it was sunny, with beautiful leaves on the trees. And, just two days ago, it was in the upper 60s. But, when I looked out my window this morning, around 7 AM, there was snow on the ground. This example of pure Minnesota seemed worthy of a digital moment.

on stories, sharing, and the trouble with coherent narratives

I just watched a video by Jake Barton of Local Projects (via Explore) called Story(Us): The Power of Collaborative Storytelling.

In this short film, Jake Barton discusses the importance of not only sharing our stories with each other, but of collaborating with each other to create a unified, coherent, grand Story together. While I really appreciate the value he places on storytelling and the power it has in enabling us to connect and collaborate, I was bothered (surprise, surprise) by his idea that this collaborate storytelling ultimately should (and often does) lead to the recognition that, as one narrator states, “we are all the same.”

Do we need a grand narrative (a singular Story) to have meaningful connections? Must our ultimate conclusion be that our differences don’t really matter, that deep down, we are all the same? These are genuine questions, although I ask them provocatively and with my own responses in mind: “why?” and “No!”

I was troubled my the larger claims of this film from the beginning, when Barton describes the power of the moon landing. He says:

We are able to go up to that thing we see in the sky, the moon. And the fact that that object has been shared by every human in every civilization for decades and centuries and millenia, is unbelievable because then the moment when one human being steps on it, it actually unites an entire world around that idea: We did it.

Such a claim seems to erase all of the politics behind who the “we” was that actually did it (the U.S.) and for what purposes (at least partially, to beat Russia and claim U.S. superiority in space and everything else). I don’t know that much about the space race in the 60s, but I do know that it took place in the context of the Cold War, an extreme fear of Russia and communism and the vigilant practice of an Us versus Them mentality. Even if we accept, in a broader sense, that the fact that someone (anyone) was able to travel to the moon meant something to us-as-humans, what do we make of what happens not too long after Neil Armstrong took his historic step onto the moon, when he and Buzz Aldrin planted a U.S. Flag on the surface? What does the planting of the U.S. flag mean for a common, coherent narrative about Us?

My point in posing these questions is to trouble the idea that sharing and collaborating on stories brings us together by erasing our differences and reminding us that we are, ultimately, all the same. I like hearing stories that resonate with me and that enable me to see how my experiences can be similar to others. And some stories that I hear do prompt me to think, “wow, we aren’t all that different.” But, sharing and collaborating on stories does not require that we erase/ignore/suppress our differences or the political context in which those differences come to matter. The realization that differences matter does not mean that we can’t connect, share, collaborate or get along with others. It means that those connections shouldn’t demand that we create a singular narrative of commonality.

Later on in the film, Barton discusses how the diversity of stories and media outlets for sharing those stories presents us with a big challenge: “Whether or not that diversity for media does create understanding between people.” Barton’s response:

Today, we have the capacity to gather those stories together, to filter them, to make meaning out of them, to curate them and to make a larger narrative that binds us altogether.

Again, I wonder, do we need one larger narrative to bind us altogether? Who gets to filter/craft that narrative? Who doesn’t? What gets left out of the story/stories when we put too much emphasis on a coherent, singular story?

I like Barton’s definition of collaborative storytelling:

Collaborative storytelling can be a better way to understand the human experience. Because it’s necessarily as diverse and gritty and strange and unexpected as any of us could imagine.

What happens to that diversity, grittiness, strangeness and unexpectedness when those stories are filtered and curated into one grand narrative? What would it look like to make connections, to do collaborative storytelling that puts these stories beside each other without one grand, unifying conclusion? What meaning could be produced? What understanding could be achieved?

On a side note, Barton’s Story(Us) video is part of a conference that happened just last week, The Future of Storytelling. As I was scrolling through the list of presenters and their videos, I found one by Margaret Robertson that was especially cool: Stories You Can Win. Here’s the synopsis:

Games have always needed stories, says celebrated game designer Margaret Robertson. For many, the first ever videogame was 1962’s Space War. It couldn’t have been simpler to look at: startlingly abstract wireframes only. Space War could hardly be a smaller story, but it allowed players to make sense of the abstract shapes, of the strange new interaction unfolding before them. And from that point on, games have consistently chased a richer relationship with stories. Technology has always made that hard, though. There were great stories in early games, but ones that you had to sip through the thinnest of straws. Everything we take for granted in other mediums of storytelling was brutally rationed in early gaming.

But now we’ve beaten those constraints. Modern games have scripts tens of thousands of pages long. They record tens of thousands of lines of dialogue and display perfectly lifelike facial expressions and body movement. Natural language conversations are becoming possible with artificial characters. Some game developers even consider that the artificial creations they make can be meaningfully said to be alive. So does that mean we’ve cracked story? Not quite. Story is hard. Story is fragile. Story is expensive. Players chew through it fast, and expect it to be endlessly responsive to their actions. Writing one good straight story is hard enough at the best of times. Producing one that’s expected to last twenty times as long as most feature films and have a hundred credible endings is next to impossible.

So how do we fix that problem? We fix it by letting games work their own particular magic. Games are engines for making stories. Their rule sets and objectives are mechanisms that engender the things that drive stories—courage, failure, shame, greed, sacrifice, surprise—and gives them context and structure. If you build a captivating world and give players interesting rules, then they’ll tell a thousand stories for you. And we fix it by letting games go free range. Whereas you needed to gather round a monolithic PDP-1 to play Space War, now most of us carry one computer in our pocket and another in our backpack. Games are leaking out on to our streets and our parks and our campuses and our beaches, and there is enormous potential to use those environments to tell new kinds of stories. This is what excites Robertson the most as a game designer: being able to give players a stage from which they can start to tell their own stories.

Re-imaging Home

At the beginning of September, I set out to document the process of reconstructing and re-imagining home after losing it when my family sold our farm in 2004 and my mom died in 2009. I wasn’t sure exactly what this process would look like or what I would imagine, create or produce. All I knew is that I wanted to spend some time making sense of my experiences struggling with and rebuilding from loss. The result of my efforts was a series of three digital videos about what home means (or has meant) to me.


The first video/story that I created was “My favorite part of the walk.” It’s a story about walking along the Minnehaha Creek path with my son Fletcher right after we moved to South Minneapolis in 2004. It documents my material connection to a neighborhood. I have lived a few blocks from this creek for over 8 years now and, when I walk on the Minnehaha Creek path, I can physically connect to memories of what I did and who I was in the past (when Fletcher and I used to take walks with the stroller or when I’d bike with the kids to camp during the summer or when I first started running). Because I moved around so much as a kid and adult (9 cities, 17 different homes), this physical connection is important to me; it’s evidence of my existence beyond the present.


The second video, which isn’t crafted enough (yet) to be called a story (I think?), is simply called “Home.” It focuses on some footage of my mom and I each talking about the importance of the farm and how it figures into our understandings of home. It was filmed in 2002, right after I had a miscarriage. In a general sense, both of our definitions involve home as nurturing:


These definitions of home as nurturing raise important, troubling questions for me: What other resources do I have for being nurtured? How do I balance my need for nurturing with my need to nurture (as a parent)?

Private Space: A Room of One’s Own?

In this final video, I put two home tours, one given by my mom in the late 80s (I think) and one given by my dad in 2000, beside each other in order to raise questions about home, belonging, memory and privacy. The tour led by my mom was originally almost 25 minutes long; I edited it down to around 3 minutes. I’m really struck by what I chose to keep in and what I edited out. In the footage that I kept, she spends a lot of time talking about her private, quiet moments and spaces in the house. I end the tour in her study as she describes her appreciation for her inner sanctum, a space where she can do “all the fun things she likes to do” and “not have to worry about how it looks.”

I have always appreciated that my mom was a private person; I’m a very private person too. For me, home is a space where I can retreat, be myself and “not have to worry about how I look” (or act).

I started writing this post last week and it’s been sitting on my dashboard, just waiting to be published. A few minutes ago I was scrolling through some old blog posts and I found one from last March, An urgent need to document my process/ing. I was struck by how part of my description of why I write in a blog and have created a virtual space fits in with some of the definitions of home that came out of my digital stories from September. Here’s what I wrote:

My need for leaving a trace isn’t just about providing others with my reflections; I leave a trace as a sort of chain, connecting my past selves and their stories with my present and future selves. This need for a chain of connections is important for me because I feel particularly disconnected from my selves, their stories and the worlds in which those stories were created.

In the past eight years, I’ve had to come to terms with the loss of two grounding forces that enabled me to link together the chains of my selves throughout the years of many moves and transitions: the loss of the farm that had been in the Puotinen family for almost 100 years and the loss of my mom.

The farm was sold in 2004 and my mom died from pancreatic cancer in 2009. Both were devastating losses. The farm had been my most important homespace; it linked me to past generations and served as a location for retreat and connection. My mom had been a kindred spirit and the person with whom I shared countless hours, hiking and talking and being curious about the world. She was also my biggest source of stories, since my memory seems to fail me a lot, about who I was when I was young.

When my family lost the farm and then my mom, something happened to my chain of past and present selves (which were already precariously linked because I have a habit of forgetting/ignoring that which has already passed); it seemed to fully break and with it, my links of belonging…to a family, to a community, even to the past selves that I once was.

I think one of the reasons I write in this blog is to create a space where I am building up an archive of ideas and experiences that I can access, remember and engage with now or tomorrow or ten+ years from now. This archive not only serves as proof of my past/present/future existence, but it enables me to craft (and imagine?) and perform a self that endures through time, space and a range of sometimes contradictory experiences and that is connected through (rooted in? beside) past selves and to generations of family members and various communities.

I like putting the idea of my virtual space-as-home beside other homespaces.