The Teams Experience

WordPress seems to have a new layout, so I thought I’d start this post with a nice drop capital (and some white boxes, although those might only be temporary). As it happens, now seems an appropriate time to try something new. In what has seemed like the blink of an eye, the third and final year of my degree has already arrived, and in light of the unprecedented times we’re living in, it’s already proving to be very different to either of the previous two. As I write this, we have completed one full week of lectures, and have experienced the first taste of what we can expect from teaching, at least until Christmas.

It now relies heavily on rotation, and our timetables have been designed to allow us all to be both present in class and remotely via Microsoft Teams. When we’re there in person, we enter, sit at socially-distanced desks around the room and the session proceeds more or less as normal, with us making sure to wipe down our desks before and after using them.

Ours is a course that benefits greatly from face to face interaction (particularly when critiquing work), so it’s a shame that that has been (understandably) reduced, but within every Teams meeting are smaller ‘breakout groups’, which we can enter with two or three other people to share files. I haven’t had much experience of them yet, but I have found them to be a source of the teething troubles tutors and students have been having with the software. In a session last Wednesday I went into one with three people, only two of whom could show what they’d written – the other file was nowhere to be found, even after it had supposedly been uploaded more than once. In addition to that, we only tentatively added comments to one another’s work because we weren’t sure that our edits would be saved, although we eventually discovered that the documents save themselves automatically whenever changes are made, so we left that group with our confidence boosted for the rest of the semester.

Certain people I’ve spoken to have been sceptical of the tutors’ ability to get on top of Teams, but I think they’ll find it easier to get to grips with as the weeks go on. They can only prepare for so much beforehand, after all. On Tuesday last week, in my very first class of the year, three of them had difficulty seeing and hearing each other as they introduced one of my modules, and struggled to adjust to a few of its features, which they’d anticipated in their training over the summer – but everything came together in the end, just as I knew it would. These minor hurdles will be overcome, and the new methods will be second nature to us all. I for one already feel very comfortable, and ready to tackle whatever the next three months bring, just as I always have been.

Mason

Outer Space, Outer Space

I’ve recently started a new project, creating the 120-150 lines of song I need for my next Composing Song Lyrics assignment. Unlike others in my class, I don’t sing or play, so I’ve taken what is supposedly the easiest option by choosing to rewrite existing songs instead. The first step in all of that is choosing the tracks I want to work on, and as I write this, that’s still very much a work in progress. I do have one song set in stone, which I rediscovered my love for a few weeks ago thanks to Spotify’s random choices – Coldplay’s ‘In My Place’ (song titles go in single inverted commas, apparently). However, the only issue with being able to choose songs you enjoy is that you risk butchering musical masterpieces with your own mediocre words, and that was definitely at the front of my mind as I started to think about mine.

We’ve been doing various writing exercises in seminars over the last few weeks that we hope will get our creative juices flowing. Many of them have involved writing about different unrelated emotions or scenarios in prose or loose verse, so that we can pluck certain words and phrases for later use. In my case at least, some exercises have been more fruitful than others, but a few words, lines and images have helped me to get started. Last night, I went to the library to begin my new version of ‘In My Place’, and because the song has a relatively simple syllabic structure and rhyme scheme, I had written a draft I was satisfied with in around half an hour – giving me 39 lines of lyrics. A blank sheet of paper is daunting for any writer, so I initially focused only on getting started and committing to an opening line. What I came up with was “outer space, outer space”, which mirrors the repetition of the title in Coldplay’s original, since I felt a degree of pressure at first to be faithful to it. It had the effect of evoking something better, though, so I soon replaced it with something else. From there, the rest of the piece seemed to flow nicely, and my portfolio was officially underway.

Because I’m rewriting something existing, it is imperative that the new song exactly matches the syllabic count of the original. In some cases, there may be an opportunity for an extra syllable in a line where one has been stretched by the singer – but I have to try and remember not to get greedy. I have a feeling that whatever the next four songs are, their new words won’t come quite as easily as the first set did, and I’ll have a lot more to consider before I can make them work. Each submission has to be accompanied by a 30-second recording explaining what you were trying to achieve with it, so there are both technical and emotional aspects to think about. Even so, I’m finding the study of lyrics less highbrow and much more accessible than I did traditional poetry last year. I can only conclude that that must be because of the nature of popular music as something which is designed to be cherry-picked and enjoyed by anyone, regardless of age, experience or background.

Mason

 

The Lipogram Challenge

My second year here in Winchester is now in full swing, and until Christmas, Thursday will be the busiest day of my week. Last Thursday, from 11am until 2pm, I was in the first seminar of my Telling True Stories module, the one Lara and I are both expecting to enjoy the most this semester. Eventually, it will require us to choose, research and write about any person or event we like – the idea must be big enough to theoretically fill an entire book. At such an early point in the term, though, we haven’t started thinking about that just yet, and a large part of that session was just devoted to what would be expected of us over the next twelve weeks.

When we did get around to writing, I definitely found the exercise to be an intriguing test of our abilities. Through an example shown to us by our lecturer, we were introduced to the lipogram – a piece of writing in which a particular letter, or group of letters, is avoided. As you might expect, we were soon asked to write our own, and we were given the choice of either creating something original, or adapting one of the lecturer’s two chosen news articles. You can see the story I chose to work on at The Guardian‘s website here. I found it tricky to decide on what I would exclude from my piece, so I turned to the person sitting next to me and asked them for their opinion. They opted for the letter ‘C’. Deciding that there were enough synonyms in the world for me to make that work, I got started, and what you can see below was the result. The nature of the lipogram meant that the original story ended up somewhat condensed, but rather than limiting me as a writer, I found that it opened my mind and really made me think about how I could get around the obstacle facing me. Surely that means that it’s worth trying again?

“Parisian onlookers were astounded on Saturday evening when a young man braved the outside of a building to save the life of a boy about to fall from an upper floor. He is being referred to as the “Paris Spider-Man” due to his selfless and remarkable show of strength, now widely available in video form. Following the heart-stopping event, 22 year-old Mali-born Mamoudou Gassama was personally thanked by Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, who said that it would be “very keen to support him in his efforts to settle” in his new homeland. He will also be honoured for his valiant deed by the President this week.

The boy was home alone at the time of the episode – his father was held for questioning and is due to appear before a jury, but his mother was outside of Paris.”

Mason