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Stories Left Unspoken

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Erin Kathleen Bahl

on 10 October 2013

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Transcript of Stories Left Unspoken

Stories Left Unspoken:
A literacy narrative on letting projects go

by Erin Kathleen Cahill
This multimodal literacy narrative is a chaotic kaleidoscope of learning from setbacks, layers of remediation, and at least a little bit of fun.

The events of this narrative span about ten months, from January to October of 2013.
It all began in a digital media seminar with Dr. Scott DeWitt, during which a partner and I composed an iMovie “book trailer” to promote
Stories That Speak to Us
, a publication from Computers and Composition Digital Press released in March 2013.

This is the “book trailer”that my project partner and
I composed for the digital media seminar. The credits
have been edited for his privacy.

Since my partner and I are both avid comics lovers, we decided to collaborate on a Prezi-hosted webcomic for our seminar final project. We envisioned this comic as a reflection on what we’d learned in composing this “book trailer” together. As students who are also teachers, we hoped that our insights might be useful for other instructors who’d like to incorporate similar projects into their own curriculum.

Life gets busy, however, as we all know, and later that summer my partner informed me that he would unfortunately have to bow out of the comic due to other commitments. I tried to continue with our original vision as best I could, but the project was so firmly grounded in collaboration that all my solo attempts seemed to spiral out of control.

As I struggled to re-theorize our original artifact, it became clear that I could not tell the story of what I learned from composing the book trailer without adding what I’ve learned from failing to compose the comic.

This Prezi webcomic, then, has two main layers: the game board-like comic narrating our “book trailer” composing process (created Spring 2013); and the paper airplane trail reflecting on what I’ve learned in letting this project go (created Fall 2013). My hope is that this layered literacy narrative will bring some satisfactory closure to an experiment that never quite reached completion.

Reality can be messy, but in stories, at least, there’s always hope for “happily ever after.”
We originally chose to compose our reflection as a graphic narrative because comics were a point of common interest. Mediating an idea as a comic is often an attempt to make the topic more accessible and even enjoyable (see for example Alexander and Losh’s
Understanding Rhetoric
, a graphic narrative textbook intended as a textbook for an undergraduate writing course). We wanted to compose a text that would both be fun to engage and spark new connections for readers by presenting our insights in an unusual way.

Why Comics?

Furthermore, since
Stories That Speak to Us
is an online publication incorporating many textual formats, such as alphabetic texts, images, video, and audio files (and since in creating our book trailer we used iMovie to showcase some of these elements), it seemed natural to mediate our response in a similarly media-rich environment such as Prezi.

Digital composition frequently offers unique opportunities for collaboration. The Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives (DALN), which Stories That Speak to Us seeks to theorize, is a chorus of thousands of literacy narratives. Eleven of the eighteen “exhibits” (essays) in
Stories That Speak to Us
featured two or more authors; and the collection itself is credited to three chief editors, an associate editor, a site designer, and countless more individuals behind-the-scenes without whom this webtext would not have been possible. My partner and I composed our “book trailer” not only between the two of us, but also in conversation with our colleagues in the seminar. When all goes as planned, collaboration opens up new composing possibilities that would otherwise swallow a lone individual whole.

When collaboration unravels, however, it quickly reverts from a project’s greatest strength to its greatest weakness. Up to my partner’s departure we’d discussed every step in our Prezi comic, but my primary task was to create the comic itself, while he was responsible for writing the text to theorize our narrative. When he was unable to continue with the project, I was left with a constellation of images and speech bubbles, but no scholarly framework that would legitimize our playful narrative for an academic, pedagogically-minded audience.

Remediation is one of the key motifs woven through this process, and the driving factor at the heart of our project from beginning to end. The DALN collects stories of literacy learning in individual lives, re-mediated from lived experience to verbal narrative in alphabetic or video form. The “curators” (authors and editors) of
Stories That Speak to Us
selected narratives from the archive, brought these stories into conversation with other narratives via a similar topic or theme, and presented their analyses as a collection of digital exhibits (Prezis, webtexts, traditional essays, etc.) under the aegis of a single online publication.

In composing our “book trailer,” my partner and I complicated this remediation trail further still. We selected audio and visual elements from exhibits under the “Technology and Digital Composition” heading and remixed them using iMovie to create a new text altogether. And then, yet another layer: we created a Prezi comic to reflect on what we learned in composing our remix. Now, this metacommentary on composing the process brings the remediation process full circle: a literacy narrative about a comic about an iMovie “book trailer” about a webtext about videos and texts presenting literacy narratives. Scheherezade would be proud.


Perhaps the main thing I’ve learned from this reflection, this attempt at “project rehabilitation,” is the vulnerability inherent in composing in conversation with other authors, other voices, other agents and perspectives. Collaboration requires a composer to give up at least some degree of control over how the final project will turn out—or whether it will even ultimately materialize. I also had to consider my partner’s own privacy in sharing this story, and in attempting to present him in as fair and generous a manner as possible. Literacy narratives, too, require reflexivity and self-disclosure in reporting, concretizing, and recreating one’s own lived experience for another reader to temporarily inhabit. A literacy narrative in comics form is especially revealing: in creating avatars of myself and my partner, I’m displaying my impression of our physical likenesses for a reader’s eyes, a sort of physical self-disclosure not typical to academic writing.

There is especially vulnerability in creating images as an amateur for an audience: What will the readers/viewers think of my text? Will they empathize with my reflections on rehabilitating a failed project, or will they wonder why I wasted their time in writing about an experience with minimal productive yield? Will they smile at my playful attempts to compose graphic narrative, or will they scorn my images as primitive and unprofessional?

Above all, though, I’ve discovered the freedom of laughing at myself, learning from my failure, and letting go of what a project was "supposed to be" in order to re-imagine the possibilities of what it could be.
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