Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Mise en Scene

My brother Gene and I just did a little test video call via Skype yesterday -- we've been wanting to give our kids a way to get together more often than just our once-a-year visits over the holidays. Now that I've done these calls with a few different people (Fleet Maull, Harry, and now Gene), I'm starting to notice something about the media. It does make your communication with the person seem more real and in-person . . . but that effect has only a little to do with seeing the other person. It has just as much to do with seeing that other person in their environment. The little office, the stacks of papers and CDs cases by the desk, the light of the window, the O'Reilly book covers in the background . . . in short, another place, as well as another person.

I tend to unconsciously dismiss the importance of place. Somehow, in my mental categorization of the world, place is arbitrary, merely the scene and staging for the people who are in it. And yet, when I have a chance to talk to those people, I'm spending my time looking at everything else besides their face. I feel like a know Fleet a little better, just for the sake of seeing his handsome and uncomplicated study, with the recognizable clutter of desk used for real and varied work.

I used to think that TV reporters doing their "live-on-the-scene" monologues with streets and buildings behind them was hopelessly contrived, a sort of visual "look-Ma-I'm-really-here-in-Russia" validation of their authenticity. But now I'm starting to realize that the placement in the scene has a lot less to do with "I'm really here" and more to do with, "We take you there." The reporter does not need to be standing in front of the White House in order to do a credible story about the President's new policy, but we need to see the White House back there to really put ourselves in the Capitol. Maybe I'm a little more sensitive to that sort of thing since I use audio media (phone and radio) vastly more than I use visual media like TV or, well, actually being there.

And what a relief, knowing that I don't need to clean up anything or worry what my office looks like for these video calls. Far from distracting from the call, all those random things in the background are actually giving the other person a sense of place, a sense of what it's like to be me.

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