The Video Essay

Anxiety and Relationship Goals in the Video Essay

I teach First Year Writing courses at St. John’s University, and for the first time this semester, I assigned what we called a video essay. I’ve previously asked students to create short documentary films before, but I decided to make the video essay an option after the work I saw on the website StoryCenter.

When writing incorporates some combination of text, images, links, sound, and video, it is called multimodal writing. I ask my students to do digital multimodal writing because of the degree to which their reading, writing, and thinking happens in conjunction with the screens of their devices. I think the less students read and publish in digital spaces, the more they are likely to be manipulated by them.

relationships, anxiety, video essay, college writing

screenshot from Jessica’s video essay

If you’d like to see the directions I gave the class for the video essay, you can click here.

Two of my students gave me permission to share their essays. I think you’ll really enjoy them!

Here is Jessica’s essay about relationship goals:

And here is Jisan’s about anxiety:

Thanks for taking the time to check out some of what we were up to this semester!

Summer Camp, Complicated Relationships, and Maine: Jane Roper’s Eden Lake

In order to win Jane Roper’s novel Eden Lake I had to agree to read the book and participate in the accompanying Goodreads discussion as a part of The Next Best Book Club.  I am a finicky reader who has probably put down at least as many books as I’ve begun, and so I wanted to make sure I had a decent chance to like the story okay before I agreed to have it shipped to me.  I could already see myself ten pages into 300, not enjoying the read, but having to stay with it because I said I would.

I went to Amazon and checked out the opening pages.  I was happy with how things got started:  “Just before noon on the morning after Memorial Day, Eric filled the tank of the John Deere, started the engine and rolled out of the barn into broad sunlight.”  One of my favorite authors, Richard Ford, often starts books on a holiday (Independence Day, Easter) and there’s a lot competent in Jane’s sentence:  it placed me firmly in time and in the sort of setting where there would be a John Deere and a barn.  I knew I wasn’t in Queens anymore, and felt like my reading life was safe for the week I put it in  Jane’s control.

Jane Roper Eden Lake William Torgerson Maine Summer Camp Relationships 80s Love on the Big Screen

Jane Roper's Eden Lake

Maine, complicated relationships, secrets, and summer camp.  These are the primary ingredients of this story that bring together a group of brothers and sisters to run a summer camp that their parents ran when they were growing up.  There are surprises here—excellent ones—and they are spaced out nicely that in such a way that just when I got comfortable with how things were going, just when I thought I could see what was going to happen next, there was something that threw me for a good reading loop and reinvigorated my interest in the story.

I’ve heard several writers say that they don’t have one idea for a book, usually the book comes when several ideas seem to collide and this book has a good bit of that going on.  There are romantic and familial complications along with the tricky balance that running a camp that’s good for kids must be while at the same time paying attention to the fact that there are bills to be paid.  “Materialism is the opiate of the masses,” one character quips in part about all the upgrades to the camp over the years (i.e. a climbing wall).  Another remembers how in the old days the camp was supposed to be, “A vision of what the world might be.”  That last line, it reminds me of something fiction can accomplish as well.  Eden Lake creates a world I was thankful to have visited, enough so that I still haven’t stopped thinking about packing up the car and heading north to see if I could find some version of it.

Jane Roper Eden Lake William Torgerson Love on the Big Screen Maine Summer Camp Relationships 80s Love on the Big Screen

Click Here to Watch a Very Funny Book Trailer

Roper, Jane. Eden Lake. Boston: Last Light Studio, 2011. Print.

Love Can Be Complicated: A Cartoon from Karin Schmitt

As I’ve written before, I was the sort of guy–even before all the eighties romantic comedies I ingested–who could believe I’d fallen in love with a girl even though I’d never talked to her before.  This happened more than once to be sure.   Sometimes I think this is something everyone experiences to some degree, and other times I think I am a certain sort of freak–we all find our ways, right?–and that I’m guilty of projecting my experience onto the experiences of others.  After all, when one of my students says, “I had the typical childhood,” I’m always quick to quiz people around the room about their childhoods.  We often find almost nothing in common.
I write this thinking it’s an obvious observation that many of us romanticize what we think a relationship ought to be, and then we are dissatisfied with relationships when they aren’t are fantasies.  At the recommendation of some of my new Facebook friends, I’m reading Rob Sheffield’s book talking to girls about duran duran. Although I think I know my tendency to romanticize relationships isn’t universal, I see Sheffield has also had this experience.  He writes, “One hundred percent of teenagers dream about making out, but they only dream about making out with 5 percent of other teenagers.  This means our dreams and our realities are barely on speaking terms, so we look forward to making out with people who aren’t real, keeping us in a nearly universal state of teen frustration” (186).  I read Sheffield and I think, “Man Rob, me and you could be buddies,” but then I know that Sheffield is good at what he does, he’s able to tap into the details of his experience that causes a certain circle of people to connect with him, and so he’s probably regularly bombarded with people who approach him calling out, “I loved Morrissey too! We should hang out.”  I teeter totter on a tightrope of tension between universal experience and the uniqueness of each of us.
I have not talked with Karin Krista Schmitt, the artist who drew the cartoon below, about what she “meant” by her drawing.  This seems like another “no, no” I’ve somehow learned:  don’t ask a poet what the poem means.   So whatever I have to say about Karin’s drawing below comes from me, but it comes as a part of a conversation started by her and her work.   I read a piece about the expectations of relationships; I read a text about how life is full of surprises.  There are two fantasies here, and they don’t match up.  Karin is another of my new Facebook friends, living in Germany I think, and when I saw her drawings (in a language I can’t read) I asked her if she might be willing to draw something for my blog and Facebook book page.  I hear lots about how Facebook is such a time waster, and of course it is for many and often for me, but I also think there can be something very exciting happen.  A person told me to read Sheffield and now I am on his second book my yesterday afternoon was better because I sat on a stationary bike for 40 minutes and read.  Karin has sent me this funny and thought-provoking drawing and she has got me thinking…
Karin Schmitt catoon for William Torgerson Love on the Big Screen

Cartoon by Karin Schmitt / see link below for more of her artwork

If you want to take a look at more of Karin’s work, you can find her Facebook here.