Creating Space

Earlier this week, I launched my personal Web site through UW-Madison’s Comm Arts Department. I built the site as an assignment for my Digital Production class. I intended to use the assignment as a means to update my blog and integrate it into a larger, ongoing project of media-making that I believe is foundational to my scholarly interests in gender, labor, and music culture as a feminist media scholar.

I’ll start by saying a bit about the initial process of building a blog. At first, it was infuriating. It was especially frustrating because my ambition exceeded my reach. I drew out a detailed, multi-page layout. I have a very clear vision for how I want my site to look and what I want it to do. Ultimately, I want my Web site to have curated collections for previous and ongoing research. I also want it to have the capacity to stream my mixes and deejay setlists. But I needed to know how to create a style sheet first.

As a class, we used Dreamweaver to build our sites. This is software in which I once claimed proficiency based on watching friends use it to build their Web sites, but I never really played with it before. My experience as a blogger and freelancer allowed me to treat the Internet like a Word document, because someone else built the frame onto which my words, images, clips, and links appeared. We also read Jon Duckett’s HTML and CSS: Design and Build Websites as a reference guide. Because of the accelerated nature of most graduate courses at R1 institutions, this involved reading 50 to 100 pages of the book at a time and (hopefully) absorbing the material as you went. Like many people essentially acquiring foreign language skills, I’m learning through error. I learned how to do something by spending hours figuring out what I did wrong, combing the book and other online resources, texting friends for advice, and toggling between HTML and CSS and doing minor tweaking that would either change nothing on the page or radically change the layout and design elements, depending on my commands.

When you’re also balancing the expectations of coursework, a TA assignment, and other administrative duties, it’s easy to freak out. I freaked out at least once. After a particularly unproductive day in the lab that culminated in me putting a picture on top of the header, I felt myself reverting to that day in freshmen geometry when everyone seemed to get proofs but me. I wanted to cry. Unfortunately, I share an office with five other teaching assistants and had an hour before facilitating four consecutive discussion sections. So I took several deep breaths, let a friend hug me, tabled it, and taught undergraduates about the political underpinnings of television’s transnational practices of importation, formatting, and co-production. Then I had dinner with a friend. Then I talked to a couple of people in my class who were having trouble or experiencing anxiety about the project. Then I went back to my layout design and attempted to break up the assignment into small, discrete chunks. First I’d create the “About” page. This involved building a header in Photoshop. I took a picture of myself reaching for a copy of The Gossip’s Arkansas Heat (originally used as the header for this blog), cropped and resized the image, added a layer of text with my name, positioned it in a place where it would be clearly visible, and saved it for the Web. Once I had the layout the way I wanted it, I could easily transfer it to the CV page, the Research page, and the Playlists page. Then, I poked around WordPress and found a layout that more or less matched my Web site’s layout and design (960 grid! Helvetica!). I originally conceived of redesigning the blog to match the site layout, but this was an easier solution. As I worked, I developed a better understanding of HTML, CSS, and Photoshop. I started to love working on my site. I started to realize that, like my blog, this space would undergo an unending process of construction. I built myself a home. Two days after I turned in the assignment, I built the site’s splash page.

This assignment made me remember why I’m taking this Digital Production class, which I forgot during the constant negotiation of coursework expectations, lesson plans, grading, and deadlines for future projects. I’m invested in university production programs doing right by their female undergraduates. I want more women to be media literate and I want more women to be media-makers. I don’t presume an additive approach will “fix” the television and film industries. More women working in television and film won’t inherently make those industries commit to more progressive hiring and retention practices. It won’t end sexism, racism, colorism, homophobia, transphobia, sizeism, ableism, and ageism. But education is never a loss. Educating women should always be a priority. And educating men and women to work together in an equitable manner will enact positive social change. As someone who teaches a studies course about post-network era television to undergraduates who want to work in the television or film industry, I want them to acquire the vocabulary and critical thinking skills in order to interrogate the processes by which television is created, distributed, and consumed. As a feminist media scholar who studies women’s below-the-line intermediary labor in the music, television, and film industries, I’m invested in helping close the gender gap. I’m invested in eventually teaching production classes so I can help create a space where students acquire skills that allow them to rethink what’s possible and to destabilize potential assumptions of who gets to enact that work. And as an instructor, I’m committed to the ongoing process of learning through teaching students how to think and work together.

Just as I’ve made peace with the fact that I can’t control how my words are interpreted by others, I’ve embraced that this Web site is a public work in progress. I designed it on a Mac. It currently looks weird in Internet Explorer, though it appears to be compatible with Chrome, Safari, and Firefox. It looks okay on my phone. I still have a lot of work to do. I need to add anchors to my CV in HTML. I need to include a contact page. I need to add credits for Girls Rock Camp Rhode Island and Scratched Vinyl editor Chi Chi Thalken for their images that I used in the Home and About pages. While I wanted it to be clean and uncluttered, it might be a bit too minimalist. I might be oppressing you with Helvetica. Finally, how do I maintain a Web site without giving in to the governing logics of branding that I believe to be antithetical to the larger political project of cultural studies?

For my final project, I’m working on further developing the Research and Playlist pages. Currently, my Research page consists of three images that link to my PowerPoint presentations of a Girls Rock Camp workshop, a guest lecture, and a conference presentation. Pretty lo-fi. Taking a cue from Miriam Posner, what I’d ultimately like to do is curate an interactive collection for each workshop, lecture, and presentation that incorporates text, images, AV material, and secondary research. I won’t be able to do this for every conference presentation and guest lecture I’ve done by the end of the semester. So I’ll start by curating a collection on the Girls Rock Camp curriculum I designed with my friend Kristen. I’ll bring in the images and videos we collected for our workshop and integrate songs from the supplemental mix CD we made for our workshop into this collection.

I want all of my deejay setlists to be available through SoundCloud, so I will make one playlist streamable. I want to stream my setlists through my site for a few reasons. One, I want listeners to have access to my research. I use the word “research” purposefully, because I discovered that Cathy Dennis’ “Touch Me” references Wish & Fonda Rae’s “Touch Me (All Night Long)” through doing the same kind of digging that I have done through scholarly and trade publications to write a term paper. I think of my Queens deejay sets as aural histories of women’s contributions to soul, hip-hop, and R&B. But as a feminist, I’m conscious of who my deejay nights exclude. There are geographical barriers. My sets certainly aren’t available to people who live outside of Madison. My sets may also be inaccessible to people who live with physical disabilities or social anxieties. Going to the Alchemy requires transportation. It also requires feeling comfortable in loud public spaces. It may also presume that you’re a social drinker, which prohibits potential listeners who are sober or in recovery. It may also be unfeasible to attend if you can’t frequent local establishments due to a limited budget or particular familial responsibilities. Finally, I’m especially aware of how holding a deejay night on a Friday or Saturday evening might prohibit people who don’t feel safe going out alone or in small groups late at night. Let me be clear: I want people to see me spin in person. But I also want to give listeners options, because being complicit with exclusivity means perpetuating inequality.

In addition to building a database, converting vinyl to a digital format, and creating streamable mixes, I want my Playlist page to enact another function. Around Halloween, I had a conversation with a friend about how to celebrate while using it as a platform for creating awareness and challenging social practice. My friend was especially upset about a local ad that showed a woman being dragged inside a haunted house. It was hard for her to separate the image from a recent news story about a woman who was murdered in her own home. It was hard for either of us not to think of how we lost Esme and how her murder continues to influence how we carry ourselves at night. Thinking about this in relation to my upcoming deejay gig, I thought about how it might be nice to link a seemingly fun event to larger social issues. So I’m planning on picking one song from a setlist and relating it to one regional non-profit that is seeking to end violence against women and children. For example, how might we put Millie Jackson‘s “It’s All Over But the Shouting” in conversation with the Settlement Home for Children in Austin?

These are big ideas that I’m trying to take on a little bit at a time in the ongoing development of my site. I welcome any and all ideas people may have regarding both design and content. Let the great (ongoing) experiment begin.


    • Alyx Vesey

      You tried to subscribe to the blog or the Web site? Because you *should* be able to subscribe to Feminist Music Geek through Google Reader. As for the set lists, those are available through the Playlists page. Currently, I have embedded links to my playlists through Facebook.

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