Unearthing a Niche

I have been busy mining the Internet for resources, and I think I finally hit a rich vein!  When I switched my searches to the topic of art therapy, I came across a lot of relevant articles.  One of these articles in particular has helped me to kind of nail down the niche my research will be filling, or at least one of them.  John Swales’s Creating a Research Space (CARS) Model emphasizes the importance of establishing such a niche to answer the “so what?” of one’s research and situate it within a larger scholarly discussion. With that in mind, I am pretty excited to have a more solid idea of my niche.

In Natalie R. Carlton’s article “Digital Culture and Art Therapy,” (2014) she emphasizes the need for art therapists to better understand digital art and culture in order to best serve their clients in our current tech-focused society.  Apparently, at the time of the article’s publication, there wasn’t much research to go around about online culture, digital art, and their therapeutic potential.  Since the article isn’t that old, I am guessing that this gap still needs some more chunks of scholarship to help fill it in.  I’m going to keep looking, of course, to make sure, but the way I’m seeing it, the art therapy community is hungry for more research about art-related online participatory cultures.

The article also had a ton of cited works that I found helpful.  I’ve saved almost all of them to my computer, and I plan to read at least one a day for the next week.  I also found a lead to a book I’m either going to ask about at Kean’s library or buy for myself.  It’s called The Art Therapist’s Guide to Social Media: Connection, Community, and Creativity by Gretchen M. Miller.  It seems tailor-made for my topic, and the abstracts I’ve found for some of the chapters/articles included in it specifically mention participatory cultures!

My immediate goal is, as stated above, to read at least one article a day for the next week.  Aside from the ones I have recently saved, I have a backlog of other articles I haven’t read in many months, and I need to reacquaint myself with them.  I also want to reread Henry Jenkins’s book Participatory Culture in a Networked Era.  I have the book, but I haven’t looked at it since my leave of absence last semester. All of this is leading toward my larger goal of having my Literature Review done by the end of this semester.  If I can’t get the whole lit review done, I at least want one section of it complete: either the participatory culture part or the art therapy part.  I would also like to have my survey designed by the end of the semester.  We’ll see about that, though.  Survey design may need to be an early summer thing.

Again, I’d like to thank everyone who’s been reading, and especially those who have reached out to me with leads and resources.  I am doing my best to make you all proud!

 

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Being Candid and Some Secondary Resources

Firstly, I want to thank you all for the positive response to my admission of mental health challenges.  It means so much to know that people in the academic community are sympathetic and supportive.

(Here comes a big, extremely disorganized, almost-stream-of-consciousness paragraph about mental health stuff.  If you want to skip directly to the research stuff, please scroll down to the third paragraph.)

Secondly, I want to apologize for the lack of activity in this blog for the past couple weeks.  I’ve, honestly, been having a difficult time lately with depressive symptoms like low motivation and hypersomnia.  The amount of effort it takes to get out of bed some days is way too large, and even then I have to fight myself every step of the way.  I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining or making excuses; I am responding to a reader request to speak more about the ways mental illness affects my work (I am now obsessively doubting whether a reader actually requested this, and trying to convince myself I’m not a narcissist).  On those bad days, the thought of getting up, bathing, eating, driving, even getting on the computer to check emails is overwhelming.  I usually have to coax myself step-by-step into acting like a functional human being.  For example, to get out of bed, I tell myself, “You just need to make it into the shower; then you can sit down and let the water roll over you.  Don’t worry about what’s after that.”  From there, it’s, “You just need to stand up and wash your hair”; “you just need to brush your teeth”; “You just need to go into the bedroom and sit on the bed with your towel”; “You just need to get dressed”; and so on and so forth…  During this whole charade, I usually have my OCD making me doubt whether I really did each thing.  Yeah, I saw myself wash my armpits; I saw the soap wash off; I can smell the soap; I did it again just in case; but what if I just imagined that I did all that?  What if I didn’t really do it, and I’m going to stink?  Knowing that your brain is going to doubt each step you take makes accomplishing things kind of daunting.  Instead of that fulfilled, “I did it!  Go me!” there’s “I know I checked this fifteen times, but did I really do it right?”  Readers, you don’t even want to know how many times I’m going to look at this same damn paragraph before I post it.  I’ve been building in at least 30 minutes to “OCD over” assignments, emails, and texts before sending them.  This is different from responsible proofreading or double checking; it’s like a nagging doubt that won’t leave once you check, and a terrible fear that if you don’t check everything “right” your identity and future are in jeopardy.  Paradoxically, that fear and doubt often makes the checking inefficient, and typos get through.  But you can’t let the OCD know that because…. well, fuck.  It knows everything I know, so I guess I’d better check more.  Soon this blog post is going to lose its original meaning and context and become less about sharing research ideas and progress, and more about putting out ridiculous mental fires that seem a lot more catastrophic than they really are.  And I just edited some stuff into this paragraph, so that dispels all the checking I’ve already done, so now I have to start reading over it from scratch.  Sometimes, the thought that I am going to have to doubt and worry about things so much makes me want to avoid doing them.  Then the depressive thoughts kick in and make me feel worthless about not having done what I’m supposed to do.  It’s like a bear killing a cognitive elk, and then ravens coming in to scavenge the carcass.  Only it’s not dead; it’s alive and trying to motivate itself to check its damn email.  The cherry on top of all this (Now I am doubting whether people are going to read this and think I’m a whiner, or conversely, that my symptoms aren’t bad enough?  That’s always fun: when the OCD makes you doubt whether or not you really have OCD.) is the urge to pick at my cuticles until they bleed.  I’ve got a little MadBall sitting here on my desk, which I use to keep myself from unconsciously picking.  They’re really good for me because of all the interesting textures the different grotesque facial features provide.  I also have a squishy caterpillar, whom my boyfriend has named Figaro, that I keep in my school bag for the same purpose.  I don’t care if people think I look stupid playing with silly, little toys all the time; it’s that or picking my fingers apart until I get infections.  MadBalls are cheaper than antibiotics.

Now that I’ve finished rambling about that, let’s talk about research!  I’ve decided I am going to slightly alter my topics of concentration.  At the encouragement of my thesis adviser, I am going to examine participatory culture in the context of mental health recovery.  This is going to take the place of my planned section on civic imagination.  So now my thesis is going to be (Now I am battling thoughts that my blog isn’t academic enough, and real scholars are going to think I’m a joke; I am going through checklists in my head of why I am a real scholar, and I will spend at least ten minutes going over the same checklist as many times as it takes to feel “okay.”) a section describing the CS communities I’m studying, a section about why they are examples of participatory cultures, and a section about the possible mental health benefits of participating in these communities.  Additionally, I am going to add one more CS community to the roster.  I will now be examining the CCCat community as well as GremCorps and Griffia.  My decision to include CCCats comes from the wealth of data (textual artifacts, visual artwork, and personal observations) I have already encountered in that community that demonstrates sensitivity and beneficence to those with mental health challenges.

(I just realized that blogging about my mental health challenges as I conduct research about participatory cultures and mental health challenges is kind of meta…  Cool!)

With those changes noted, now I will talk a bit about some resources I’ve discovered.  I already have a lot of general stuff about online communities, participatory culture, DeviantArt, etc. saved in my Zotero, but now I need to find stuff specifically looking at mental health and online participatory cultures.  I’ve just begun this search, but I’ve already found some interesting tidbits.  There are some researchers in psychology looking at ways Internet and smartphone-based interventions can help patients with mental illness:

Some are looking at whether practitioners and patients would be accepting of technologically-based supports and treatments.

Others are finding that online communities may help those with mental illnesses talk about their struggles, and could reduce stigma.

One study conducted in the Netherlands showed that “community-based participatory media projects” helped participants to gain awareness of mental illness and the ways that stress can lead to or exacerbate such illnesses.

I have not yet come across anything specifically addressing DeviantArt, closed species, or similar interest-driven online communities in this context, but I am just touching the tip of the iceberg.  I am going to continue my research, and I will report back next time with what I have found!  Thanks for reading, and for sticking with me!

Griffia Website

Hello all!  This isn’t an actual blog post; I just needed to share this awesome artifact that’s going to make parts of my research so much easier:  the official Griffia website!  It’s still in the process of being completed/polished, but there’s already a wealth of information on it.  One can learn about the universe, the species, gameplay, lexis, the moderators, and more.  You can bet your butt I’m going to be citing the heck out of this site!  I’m so excited!

Triumphant Return

Hello, and thank you, to everyone who has shown an interest in my research!  I’m back, and I owe you all an apology for falling off the face of the Earth a few months ago.  I had some major health issues last semester that forced me to take a medical leave of absence, which I’ll get into soon.  What’s important, though, is that I am feeling better now, and I am back on the thesis horse (it neighs in footnotes).  I have managed to get into this semester’s thesis seminar class, and I am stoked to continue working on my research.

Allow me to get real for a moment.

I have a bit of fear talking about this subject, as it may make me seem less desirable as a professional in my future career.  Some people might feel like I won’t make a reliable professor, and they’re entitled to that opinion, as much as it might pain me.  I feel it is worth talking about, however, as like it or not, it is a part of me, and I am not going to feel ashamed.  I’m the one who gets to decide if my issues make me unfit for academia, not anyone else, and this is my way of saying to the academic community “Yes, I have these challenges, and yes, I am still a competent scholar and educator.  Deal with it.”

Since the age of about 17 I have struggled with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Major Depression.  It has affected every facet of my life, and last semester’s leave of absence was due to a severe flare-up, or relapse, or whatever you want to call it, of my symptoms.  This was caused by the stress of grad school, and the fact that the medications I had been taking for years had lost their efficacy (yes, that’s a thing that happens).  During my absence, I went into an acute partial hospital program, where I received intensive group and individual therapy, and medication management. I continue to see my therapist on a weekly basis, and my psychiatrist on a monthly basis.  That is something I will need to do perhaps indefinitely.  I need to structure my life around this sort of routine care so I don’t wind up in crisis again.  I get into trouble when I stop participating in routine mental health care because I feel as if I have somehow “outgrown” my mental illnesses, or that I am “too smart” to be feeling the way I do.  OCD has nothing to do with maturity; it has nothing to do with willpower, or intelligence.  And neither does Depression.  To think/act otherwise is like someone trying to force their way out of Type 1 Diabetes by claiming they’re too adult to go into a hypoglycemic coma.  I am still able to achieve and succeed; I just have to be careful about how I do it, and I must be aware of things that make me vulnerable to my mind’s irrational self-cruelty.

I’ll get off my soapbox now, and I thank you all for hanging with me through that little speech.  A lot of that was important for me to verbalize, even if it may not seem directly relevant to my research.

Now, let’s get to the good stuff.

During my recovery process I was able to continue doing some informal research on closed species communities.  In fact, becoming a more active participant in the Griffia community was a big part of my healing.  It’s amazing how therapeutic the features of participatory cultures can be when one is tackling serious mental health struggles.  According to Jenkins (2009) these features are as follows:

  1. Relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement
  2. Strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others
  3. Some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices
  4. Members believe that their contributions matter
  5. Members feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least they care what other people think about what they have created)

Now allow me to explain how each of these features was beneficial to me.

  1. The low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement allowed me to participate in the Griffia community without pressure or guilt.  Some days I didn’t feel like logging in at all; my mind just wasn’t in the right place to do much of anything.  Other days I was able to make a quick piece of art work or enter a simple event, like a raffle or game of chance.  I never felt like I had to do anything special to earn the right to participate or be heard.  I knew that whatever I did was enough, and that helped me to rebuild my creative identity and self-esteem.
  2. The strong support for creating and sharing made me feel like I had something to offer.  Part of Depression is feeling like one is worthless or a disappointment.  It was harder to feel that way when what artwork I was able to post received favorites and positive comments from people all over the world.
  3. The informal mentorship aspect made me feel like I was continuing to learn and achieve.  There were some prompts I did where the creator of the Griffia species allowed community members to use her personal characters.  They were grateful and encouraging to those who made art of said characters, myself included.  To earn praise from someone I admired at a time when I felt unworthy of praise really meant a lot.
  4. I definitely believed that my contributions mattered.  Around December I began making random gift art for others in the community, and it made me feel like I was helping others instead of just receiving help.  Yeah, they were just drawings, but they made people happy.  Instead of feeling like I was taking, taking, taking, as is common when one is receiving health care, I felt like I was able to give and make somebody’s day just a little brighter.
  5. I felt my social connections with other members of the community begin to strengthen the more I participated.  I began to recognize certain names and characters, and that allowed me to feel more grounded and in-control of that part of my net life.  Gaining better control of that one part of my life gave me the momentum and confidence to take control of other, more important, parts of my life.

These effects might be subjective and limited only to me, but I doubt it.  It actually makes me really curious about any other research that might exist that examines the connection between participatory cultures and mental health recovery…  I may look into that…

Some other stuff I thought was cool:

Firstly, I learned about a Tumblr blog that exists specifically to highlight and react to “drama” that occurs in CS communities.  I think this blog will be very useful for me when it comes time to discuss opposing viewpoints.  I may think CS communities are the best things since sliced bread, but a lot of other people don’t.  By reading through the criticisms posted at this massively-multi-authored blog, I can get a better sense of the negatives people find within CS communities.

Secondly, there is this.  A lot of events and activities in the Griffia community rely on a Random Number Generator (RNG) to determine results.  In light of this, a lot of community members began to jokingly pray to the RNG gods whenever they entered raffles, or other similar activities.

RNJesus

Presumably drawing on this community-wide joke, the creator of Griffia actually made a personified representation of the Random Number Generator into a diety for their fantasy world.  I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty damn cool!  It’s a great example of member participation influencing the story of a species/world, and one of the things that excites me so much about these communities.

And there you have it.

My return to research blogging has been a bit all-over-the-place, from mental health to Random Number Generators, but it still feels great to be back.  I will begin posting here more regularly as I continue my work.

Once again, thank you all for sticking with me.  I will do my best to make you proud with this thesis.

 

 

 

 

Looking for Sources in All the Right Places

This is going to be a bit shorter of a blog than usual, as only a few significant things have happened in the past week.  I have been able to locate, curate, and analyze a lot more sources, and I am feeling pretty jazzed about that.  My white whale, however, continues to elude me.  Moby Relevant-Longitudinal-Study is still splashing out there somewhere, and I am determined to find and harpoon him.  With my word harpoons.  And my computer cursor.  It’ll be epic, I swear.  Blood and greasy metadata smeared all over everything.

Zotero: Cognitive Balm for a Raw and Cluttered Mind

Prof. Levine showed us Zotero last week, and I have to say: it’s a frickin’ game changer!  I have been saving links, notes, and quotations in random word documents, then shoving them into random folders this whole time.  Being able to organize my sources and annotate them with a click is amazing.  I’m terrible at organizing things, even my own thoughts, so I am super thrilled to have Zotero doing all that work for me.  I’m really enjoying using it, and I wish I had known about it years ago.

Structured Serendipity

Applying the concept advocated by Dr. Zamora, and following the advice of my more scientifically-minded step-sister, I have branched out in my search for sources.  I’m now scouring databases for other disciplines and areas of study, typing in keywords relevant to my thesis, and seeing what comes back.  In doing this, I’ve actually found a lot of really useful information in unexpected places, as well as models for methodologies and structures.  I never imagined an article about mental health treatment in Buenos Aires, Argentina could be so relevant to my research.  Something else that has been pretty cool is seeing researchers in other fields name-dropping Howard Rheingold and Henry Jenkins.  It’s like, “Oh, I know those guys!”  It makes me feel part of a broader scholarly community, and it reinforces the fact that I’m learning things from all this research.

*Nervous Breathing*

Hi Kevin

I’m really looking forward to the video chat with Henry Jenkins today during class.  But I’m also crazy nervous.  I’m starting to get a cold, so I’m feeling a bit out of it, and I’m just so terrified of seeming stupid.  I’m willing to bet everything will go just fine, but it’s such a big deal to speak to THE participatory culture guy.  It’s very intimidating, and it’s just one more reminder of the reality of my thesis.

 

Something New to Puke About

Well, following the recommendation of my boss in the Writing Center, I just submitted a proposal for the PCACA 2018 National Conference. My proposed paper/presentation would be a truncated version of my thesis that covers the same topics, but less extensively than I intend for the thesis.  I’m feeling sick with anxiety right now, and I’m not even sure why.  I think my proposal was reasonably well-written, and I obviously have faith in my topic if I’m devoting my whole thesis to it…  I think I’m nervous because this makes my thesis real.  It’s not just an idea limited to class and a handful of social media contacts anymore.  Now there’s a record of it at some big academic-y warehouse of smart stuff curated by smart people who are smarter than me, and they’re going to see right through me to the fact that I know nothing.  Never have I felt more like that Golden Retriever in the lab coat.

Deep breaths…

I’m afraid that they’ll reject and laugh at my proposal.  On the other hand, I’m equally afraid of getting accepted; then I’ll have to have a full mini-thesis done by March!  What if I fuck up?  What if I can’t meet that deadline, or I get to the conference and just freeze.  Or collapse into a shuddering pile of “Yeah, it’s like, you know, and stuff”?

I know this was a step toward my goals for this research, and that’s good.  That’s huge!  But it just makes me feel so vulnerable, small, and stupid…  I’ve never even felt this way when submitting fiction to journals or lit mags.  Yes, there’s always the fear of judgment and failure, but this is somehow five times worse and more intense.  Am I not cut out for academia?  What if I fail so miserably that I become a meme?

Okay, academia.  Is this what you wanted?!  I’m gonna go hug myself in a corner now.

Purified Consumerism in the GremCorps Community: A Mini Discourse Analysis

Gaudi Baker Badass 9

Art and character by me

Grem2 species by MrGremble on DeviantArt

Last semester I coined the term “purified consumerism” to describe some of the buying/selling/trading practices I had noticed in CS communities.  “Purified consumerism” refers to an informal agreement between a seller and buyer that the product, in this case a pre-made Grem2 character design, is to be used and appreciated for its intended creative purpose, and not for its perceived value.  The role of purified consumerism in the GremCorps community came to mind as I was re-reading chapter 3 of Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart.  I came across the portion of the chapter entitled “Footprints and Profiles: How You Look to Others… and Yourself,” particularly this statement on page 139: “One strong link between mindfulness and participation is the two-part question: What impression is my digital participation deliberately giving to others?  And what impression is my digital participation unintentionally giving off?”   The unofficial code of conduct imposed by purified consumerism can make things complicated when a user decides that they want to sell, trade, or swap a character design in the GremCorps community.  Within the community, there is a definite stigma associated with selling or trading one’s Grem2 characters too often; it makes one seem to be breaking the contract of purified consumerism.  The rules of conduct for the GremCorps community even state that “Grems obtained via new-owner-only auctions and raffles cannot be traded until a period of 2 weeks has passed since the time of purchase.”  Not everyone who wants to trade or sell a character design does so heartlessly, however.  So, how do members of this community balance their desire to trade/sell a character design with their desire to not be seen as a greedy or irresponsible?

Animal Rescue Language

Firstly, and emphasizing the purified consumerism mindset, is the use of language commonly associated with animal rescue and adoption.  One journal post advertising the sale of two character designs states “This wont be first come first serve as i would prefer these go to loyal homes with people who will care for them!” This particular journal is also notable because of the large amount of money at stake (well over $300).  The fact that the seller would take the time and energy to screen their buyers, much like an animal rescue agency screens prospective adopters, is not something one usually encounters in the sale of secondhand items.  I know I’ve never seen anything like that in a Treasure Hunt. Another member says in a trading journal that they are “hoping someone out there can give [their Grem2s] the love they deserve.”  Several other trading/selling journals use the terms “permanent home” or “forever home” to describe what they would like to provide for traded designs.  By using this kind of animal rescue language, members could be trying to communicate the respect they have for the designs and their intended purpose.  After all, animal adoption and surrender is a uniquely emotional transaction of property in which money is generally a secondary concern.  They could also be trying to distance themselves from business-like language, which might be seen as cold or materialistic within the community.

Explanations Involving the Creative Process 

Another way that members of the GremCorps community protect their reputations in trading/selling journals is by providing short narratives involving their creative process surrounding the character design, and why they wish to trade or sell it.  One member provides the following explanation narrative in their trading journal: “So this is slightly shameful as this Grem used to be my dreamy and when I got him I was like YAAAS FINALLY.  And to be honest I still do love his colors like a LOT, but after having him for a while I’ve realized I really dislike his trait combo and it isn’t very pleasing to draw for me.  I’ve thought about/attempted to change his traits to something that I like more, but the way his markings are (especially the neck fur) it just kind of works with what he has now so I feel dirty trying to mess it up.”  This explanation acknowledges the negative stigma associated with trading too quickly by saying their desire is “slightly shameful” and letting readers know that they have had the design for “a while.”  The explanation also shows that the member did attempt to use the design for its intended purpose while it was in their possession, and that they had a deep appreciation for the design aesthetically and sentimentally.

Explanations Involving Real Life Stressors or Charity

A third way members of the GremCorps community justify trading or selling a design is by explaining real life situations that require such an action.  This could include emergencies like medical/dental expenses, veterinary bills, rent, car expenses, or required travel.  It could also include charitable situations, like needing money to buy a birthday gift for a friend/family member, or the desire to donate funds to another community member in need.  These explanations show respect to other community members by implying that real-life must always come first, something that any responsible member must acknowledge.