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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Phantom Selves and Haunted Places in Chemical Hearts (Dir. Richard Tanne, 2020)

Chemical Hearts (Dir. Richard Tanne, 2020) is a teenage angst-riddled love story that has a The Catcher in the Rye premise.  The new girl in a suburban New Jersey high school walks with a limp and a cane. We find out that she is tortured by guilt and blames herself for the fatal car accident in which her football star boyfriend (she is a track star) dies at age 17.  He was driving, but she thinks she distracted him by trying to be funny. It happened a week after she moved into her boyfriend’s family home due to clashes with her alcoholic mother.  The new girl meets a shy, aspiring school newspaper / yearbook editor who has never had a girlfriend.  

The shy, writerly guy is obsessed with his favorite hobby, Japanese kintsugi, the art of breaking then repairing pottery by gluing back the pieces with lacquer dusted or mixed with gold, silver, or other metals.  This highly symbolic hobby makes one immediately think that he is driven by wanting to fix broken things and make them even more beautiful than before ; a metaphor that is not lost on the new girl, who, at one point declares to him, “I’m not your latest kintsugi project!” 

But she is, because she is extremely broken. The scar on her leg seems to get larger, and her limp seems to worsen. Psychologically, she reshatters herself daily by living in her boyfriend’s unchanged room, and even by wearing his clothes (it is unclear how / why the dead boy’s parents do not say something about that). 

Grace Town (played by Lily Reinhart) is the new girl. The shy, writerly guy is Henry Page (played by Austin Abrams). The film was directed by Richard Tanne for Amazon films, where it was released for immediate streaming. The dead boyfriend’s name was Dominic Sawyer. 

Grace catches Henry’s attention as they are seated next to each other, waiting to see the journalism teacher. She is reading Sonnet XVII from Pablo Neruda’s 100 Sonnets of Love.  He reads the following, some of which as been highlighted: 

I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz

or an arrow of carnations that propagate fire

I love you as one loves certain obscure things – 

secretly, between the shadow and the soul – 

Sonnet XVII

He is also fascinated by something he sees inscribe on a ring she wears hanging from a chain:  “Serva me, servabo te”  / Save me, and I will save you. 

Henry’s curiosity is piqued, and even more so when he and the new girl (Grace Town) are called into the journalism teacher’s office.  The teacher offers Henry and Grace the position of co-editor. Grace immediately declines and offers to be an assistant. Henry is confused. 

Since Chemical Hearts is about damaged or painfully shy teenagers in love, we know there will be pain and heartache. But, what will be the extent of that pain, and what will we learn about ourselves along the way?  Well, it really depends on how you catch the metaphors in the scenes.  Here are a few: 

After suggesting developing a feature story on teens and suicide over the ages, Grace pulls a stack of works of literature featuring teen suicide: Romeo and Juliet, Catcher in the Rye, Girl Interrupted, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and more. Will Grace follow in those footsteps? 

Henry follows Grace to the places she visits after school. One is in an abandoned building that mysteriously has an intact koi pond on the bottom level. She likes to wade in, hip-deep, in the cold waters.  At one point, Grace is wearing the dress she was to be married in, and one can’t help but think of the pre-Raphaelite (John Everett Millais) painting of Ophelia (from Shakespeare’s Hamlet) face-up, dead after drowning herself in a shallow pond. 

Grace does not literally attempt suicide but in many ways she has expunged her own existence to become the animating spirit of her boyfriend, Dominic Sawyer, as she dons his clothing and becomes a kind of phantom self – a living ghost that desperately seeks redemption through physical contact, which creates a pathway back to a differentiated, re-established self. 

What makes the movie interesting? There are quite a few elements that give the film an edge. First, there are the punctuated “reveals” – the information that is revealed like puzzle pieces or clues that help you solve what is clearly developing as a mystery, or at least a mystery girl. 

Further, there is a sweeping sense of “place,” especially of a haunted place. The leafy, lush New York / New Jersey woodlands, streams and rivers, together with ornate gingerbread-carved Victorian homes, crumbling factories, and a soulful, stained, shadowy home where Grace lives in the dead young man’s bedroom and wears his fading clothes, converge to reflect states of mind. 

At school, visual allusions to Ken Kesey-esque Merry Pranksters can be found in the camaraderie and creative self-fashioning and subversion of the tradition. The Pranksters are those who work with Henry and Grace on the paper. They pursue self-expression where the chemical state of being “in love” is everything, and when the most raucous, they also invoke an echo of Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966). 

The film itself subverts and challenges the hyperbolic bathos of teenage love and at the same time acknowledges the true, physiological impact of grief by literally depicting walking in another person’s shoes. 

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Meeting Corporate Collaboration, Training and Talent Management Needs with Workplace Moodle

Reading Corporate Learning with Moodle Workplace (Packt, 2020), by Alex Buchner, filled me with relief.  

Corporate Training with Workplace Moodle

There has never been any doubt that Moodle’s capabilities are ideal for any number of organizational needs, ranging from onboarding and compliance training, to collaborative projects across departments or locations. The problem for most people who want to use Moodle for their organizations is that most web-based Moodle templates are created for schools (primary and secondary) as well as colleges and universities. For someone who wants to have an on-premise solution, there will be a lot of customization to be done, and it’s easy to make a mis-step in the first few phases that lock you into something you don’t want, but it’s too expensive and time-consuming to change. To further complicate things, Moodle has frequent updates and upgrades, and if you’ve put a lot of effort into a custom solution for one version, you may not be too excited about experimenting with it to see if it will migrate to a later version. 

Thankfully, the enterprising Moodle community has developed Moodle Workplace, which is a Moodle build that has the structure and built-in activities for a wide array of workplace needs, which include on-boarding, training, certificates, bite-size training for badges, collaborations, compliance assessment, talent management records-keeping and more.  To give eager users the skills they need to use it, Alex Buchner has written a well-organized, clear, useable, and nicely documented book, Corporate Learning with Workplace Moodle . It is now available through Packt Publishing, an acknowledged world leader in technical training publications.

If you’re familiar with Moodle as it is used for an educational institution, you’ll immediately notice that some of the terms have been used to give the platform a business feel.  Individual users are “tenants” which evokes the feeling of a building with physical office space where you can arrange the workers. The decision by the makers for Workplace Moodle to trigger a visual image of a single building may be a bit ill-advised, given the distributed workplace and the very real possibility that post-COVID, many companies will choose not to pay high rents but will encourage working from home as much as feasible and practical. For Minecraft devotees, the open-world sandbox aspect is an exciting one, and the prospect of building a training and collaboration world with Moodle Workplace is exciting. 

Moodle Workplace does not replace Moodle. Instead it consists of a series of plug-ins that sit on top of the Moodle platform. In this sense, it’s a customization and the downside is that any inherent limitations in Moodle will be present in Moodle Workplace as well. Some of the plug-ins are Totara Learn-developed plug-ins, so if there are aspects of Totara that you do not like, you’ll need to learn to live with them, at least until Moodle 4.0, and then all bets are off. Another limitation is the fact that it’s not available for your own on-premise download. Instead, you must work through an authorized Moodle Partner. They can be expensive. 

That said, the biggest advantage of using Moodle Workplace vs another solution is a quick learning curve for Moodle users, customizable appearance, and rapid deployment. Further, Workplace Moodle has made an effort to integrate with other databases or systems. For example, many companies currently use AEP for their payroll functions as well as compliance, workforce development record-keeping. 

For a developer or instructional designer who is used to using Moodle with educational institutions, it will be intuitive to use Workplace Moodle to set up training modules that include the content as well as assessment. 

The self-enrollment function for both synchronous and asynchronous training events eliminates the need for associations and professional societies with external members to use something like EventBrite.  Being able to integrate the webconferencing function (Big Blue Button, for example), makes it possible to do everything from within Moodle and not have to exit in order to set up a separate meeting with Zoom, Teams, BlueJeans, RingCentral, etc. 

Buchner’s text goes into detail about how to set up the following: 

  • training with assessment
  • training with automatic generation of badges and/or certificates
  • designing badges and certificates
  • collaborative projects with team members from different groups / locations
  • brand-building exercises

Buchner does not go into as much detail as he could about one of Moodle’s big advantages. Although the file sizes are limited, Moodle does and can function as a content management system as well as a learning management system. The choice whether to archive and create repositories in the cloud-based Moodle site, or to create a portal to one’s own storage / repositories is one that the user will make. But, the bottom line is the same:  Workplace Moodle (as well as regular Moodle) can help you map your training path and the objects used in conjunction with it, and to do so with maximum flexibility and re-useability.


Sunday, January 31, 2021

E-Learning Corgi Recognized as a "Lockdown Learning Hero!"

 We are thrilled to announce E-Learning Corgi and Susan Nash have been recognized as a "Lockdown Learning Hero" by Twinkl

From the website: This year has presented us with a range of challenges, not least to the disruptions to children's educations. We have been inspired by UNESCO’s International Day of Education, so we’ve been searching for organizations, schools, charities, and individuals who went above and beyond to: ‘Recover and Revitalize Education for the COVID-19 Generation.’ We’ve been asking for nominations for learning heroes, and we’ve collected some of our favorite responses in this post, so we can share some fantastic examples of perseverance in continuing the education of children. So, without further ado, here are some of the many Learning Heroes for 2021. 

Twinkl has developed an enormous number of standards-aligned online learning resources for all grade levels and in many different languages. They are impressive -- and free! 

Saturday, January 02, 2021

The “Animus” Required of a Poetics: On a Recent Poem Series by Rochelle Owens

Rochelle Owens consistently challenges the reader's perspective with her plays, poetry, and videos that relate to her work: Futz!Black Chalk, How Much Paint Does the Painting Need?, Oklahoma Too

Literary critic and scholar Brian McHale argues that the primary difference between Modernism and Postmodernism is that Modernism is concerned with constructing vast, new epistemological frameworks, while with Postmodernism, there is no longer any belief in the efficacy of knowledge systems to represent the world.  Instead, Postmodernism’s primary conceit is that of a challenge to beingness and the unavoidable processes of disintegration to be followed by re-integration. 

Award-winning and trail-blazing poet and playwright Rochelle Owens (latest book, The Aardvark Venus)  captures the two often oppositional processes in her work.  On the one hand, her weaving, incantatory rhythms and the reflexive nature of her subject matter, clearly take on the constructive act of developing the poem’s own epistemology.  On the other, however, she often dismantles the very episteme she has built, and as it is torn down, she replaces it with the process of becoming.  In some cases, the “becoming” process starts as an “undoing” or dismantling.  

There may be images and processes that allude to dissection, dismembering, putrefaction (as in Black Chalk (1994)), or they can allude to a destructive, nutrient-robbing parasite (the tapeworm in “Chomsky Grilling Linguica (Part 2)) . But, by the end, the ontological destabilization turns into a regenerating process that explores how language and poetics model the creative act; more specifically, the freedom enjoyed in the re-assembling of language and signification.    

Owens’s latest work, “Patterns of Animus,” ( specifically addresses the issues surrounding how the poet represents knowledge and knowing.  The poem begins with the image an etched piece of metal.  The engraver creates an etching that has “geometric form” and is “fatal the design. However, the action of writing and inscribing, or etching, is a work of construction of meaning. The construction occurs when the letters are formed, and that gives rise to the possibility of signification. 

The artist continues to engage in the act of etching, which reinforces idea of signification-in-the-making and meaning that can arise from the actions.  The “animus” brings together a great desire to create, but also suggests a base-level hostility that may be necessary for true art to be created.  

The engraver is inscribing something that stays just outside the reader’s view, which gives it the ability to take on many forms at the same time and to create in the reader’s own mind, the notion of the reader’s own epistemological framework that rises up like a Fata Morgana, the startling weather phenomena that results in mirages resembling complex castles and structures.

In the engraving process one cannot help but think of other acts of generative classifiable ways of seeing and cataloging. The Marquis De Sade comes to mind because his subversive world which is in essence a destructive mirror: an anti-world.

The artist cuts or burns his way through to a new world order and a new system of organizing perception and in doing so creates a sense of permanence by cutting into the metal in a way that the message or the series of signs are permanent and not easily erasable. But instead of metal, he could, like Kafka’s Commandant, invent “The Harrow” to dig into The Condemned Man’s head. The artist, so enchanted by the ability to write, inscribe, or etch, may be oblivious to the fact that the function is violent and will ultimately kill The Condemned Man.  In “Patterns of Animus,” art is likewise consigned to the service of signification, but it is not, as in Kafka, done to remind the condemned of their transgressions.  Instead, Owens reminds the reader of the potential to create.

In contrast to the act of inscribing and etching and of creating a system of knowledge, in Part II of “Patterns of Animus,” the body of a woman (the “dead paysanne”) floats in a swamp, and as it does so, decomposes. Is the “dead paysanne” like the drowned prostitute used by Caravaggio as a model for the Virgin Mary for his painting, “Death of the Virgin” (1606)?   

The paysanne is heavily imbued with signification because she embodies a taboo or a limit to the structure in which people find their roles. That body is potentially a victim, or simply a receptacle of transition as it lies in a swamp and decomposes. The body transmits a message metaphorically because of social constructs (in the case of Caravaggio, the drowned prostitute was used to represent the Virgin Mary).  The body has meaning simply because of the action of the observers and their socially constructed reality. 

However, the body of the dead paysanne is lying in the swamp and it is decomposing, a condition of being (or “unbecoming”) that triggers a process by which all the signification starts to change. One becomes very aware that the meaning system and the concerns of the text have to do with ontological anxieties and ontological instability: the center does not hold. The central concern of the poem transitions to questions of being, beingness, becoming, and their inversions, “unbecoming.” The “dead paysanne” floats in a swamp and the physical changes brought on by “microscopic algae” suggest an unraveling of being and by extension, a poetics of “un-becoming.”  The rather horrifying mental image of a body being broken down by natural processes gives rise to an extended metonymy, and a mechanism by which one can address how the poet subverts traditional values. The restrictive belief systems become turgid, followed by the burbling degassing of values (and of meaning).  

On a larger scale, one can’t help but think of videos of a dead whales that wash up onto beaches, their putrefaction gases building up in their bellies, causing consternation to the communities. Eventually, they explode, resulting in a rain of rotting whale carcass parts. (There was a case in Oregon: and in Newfoundland:  The granddaddy of them all took place in Florence, Oregon, in 1970, where Oregon Highway Division decided to have a “controlled demolition” with twenty cases of dynamite . It did not go as hoped.).  On a smaller scale, the explosion only bursts the belly of the dead whale, allowing the entrails to slide out as though alive: 

If the “dead paysanne” has a parallel with Caravaggio’s dead prostitute who was used as a model for “The Death of the Virgin,” there is another level of ontological insecurity, which has to do with being judged for one’s status in society.  She drowned. Was she murdered? If so, the notion of murder reminds one that certain people within a social construct are those relegated to be the trigger of change.

If the moving eye that moves along the “jagged black line” represents the epistemological framework in a world, the rotting corpse of the murdered prostitute lying in a swamp is representative of the ontological insecurity of the world and an essential fragility that points to the provisional nature of being and beingness. And, in this fragile world, “animus” – with all its contradictory suggestions – is a requisite condition for the creation of a poetics. 

Works Cited

Kafka, Franz. “In the Penal Colony.” Franz Kafka Online. 2007. 

Owens, Rochelle.  “Chomsky Grilling Linguica” TheNewVerseNews. 15 March 2006. 

_____  “Patterns of Animus” Jacket2: 24 September 2020 

Questions? please contact Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D. 

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