Just Light

Of all the quick, in-depth, video tutorials that Tim led for us at Open Signal this week, I found the lighting tutorial the most helpful. Where the camera day and the audio day had been borderline bewildering, I think we all left the building on Wednesday feeling confident that we could light an interview.

There was no terminology, functions, or menus to go through and learn. It was just light. We set up the light stands and fiddled around with them under his guidance. The whole class had to participate to make the lighting look good, and it was really cool to be able to use the different filters and dials to manipulate the image (which was being fed from a camera to a large monitor that we all could see). We needed two brave volunteers, Emily and Coral, to sit in front of the camera and have their faces observed in front of the whole class, in varying amounts of light. Thanks to them, we were able to use the time we had to look critically at lighting and figure out what we could do to make it look better.

After that, we still had time to go on a brief tour of the rest of the building. Open Signal is a public access filmmaking and broadcasting organization, and they have a lot of studios and equipment that they rent out to local media-makers like ourselves. Now that we’ve gone through their training, we can check out their cameras, tripods, audio recorders, and lighting equipment to make our documentaries in the next few weeks.

They also let people use their studios, which we had a chance to see during the tour. They have two large, quiet rooms, complete with crane-rig cameras and green screens that are open to the public, so long as they have a proposal and have gone through the training. I think it’s amazing that there are organizations like Open Signal that make media-making so accessible to ordinary people. All you really need is the motivation to create something and you can make it happen.

Theo Morris 

Reasons to Spend Your Leisure Time Collecting Trash

The weekend had arrived. My audio project was complete. After over a week of manic, late night editing, a weight had finally fallen off my shoulders.

So, my next decision was this: how should I possibly spend these precious days of relative ease? What can I do to unwind before we hit the ground running with our video projects?

I could have gone for a hike, checked out a local concert, or simply spent my whole weekend sleeping (I honestly could have done that). But instead, Birgit (my host for the summer) enticed me to do something entirely different: she asked me help her collect trash.

Yes, I honestly set my alarm for 7:00am on a Saturday to go pick up trash. How could I ever agree to this, you might ask? On my one weekend of freedom?

First of all, Birgit is very convincing. But it wasn’t just that—there’s actually an organization in Portland that makes trash collection a fun, recreational activity. I’m not lying.

This Saturday, the Columbia Slough Watershed Council coordinated with Next Adventure to help folks get out onto kayaks and into the slough to help clean it up! So, basically you get to paddle around, chat with new people, and enjoy the wildlife—while also stopping along the way to pick up trash and debris.

And it turns out a lot of people were just as interested as Birgit and I. We launched at Kelly Point with about twenty other people. On top of that, the council had organized five different access points where other groups of volunteers were also spending their morning kayaking the slough.

In addition to being able to chat and discuss local issues with the other volunteers, I also got to enjoy the presence of two eagles, an owl, a heron, and a curious turtle. It was a happy day.

But the most interesting (and bittersweet) part of this was the sheer volume of trash we all collected. When we returned to land, everyone’s kayaks and canoes were overflowing. A few people had larger objects they were towing along behind them. It felt productive to have collected so much, but it also made me wonder—why is there so much trash here in the first place?

As with a lot of issues in Portland, some of this seems to circle back to the housing crisis. There are many people camping and fishing along the slough because they literally have nowhere else to go, nothing else to eat—and nowhere else to leave their trash. It’s not a choice, it’s not laziness or lack of care: it’s because a lot of these people have no other option right now, largely due to lack of avenues for support coming from the city of Portland.

As we packed up our kayaks and said our goodbyes, some of the other volunteers began to vocalize the same issue I had been considering all day. A few folks talked about ways in which environmental advocates might partner with organizations supporting the houseless community. It’s all still a brainstorm, but I appreciate that we ended our Saturday with some fresh ideas.

Anybody who is interested in tackling these problems, joining these conversations, and supporting a good cause should definitely check out the Watershed Council—they are a great group!

—Madi Stapleton

Affordable Alien

Last Saturday I went to go catch Alien: Covenant at the Academy Theater in Southwest Portland. When I entered the Academy Theater, the décor was comforting. The physical theaters were small, cozy, and historical, making it a very pleasant experience to sit through scenes that depict aliens exploding out of stomachs.

Now usually I would say that the film I saw would spark some kind of realization, but my observation of Portland’s independent theaters started at the ticket window. It was when discovered that a Saturday night showing was $4.

Never in my life had that happened. In any other movie theater, expecting such a low price for a movie would not be the case because we assume profit-seeking media conglomerates that back theater companies would push prices up as movie distribution prices increase. This dilemma leaves little room for the showing of independent or low budget productions that would be meaningful for the public to see.

Price matters. It makes the difference between someone going to see a movie and not seeing one. In this way, a $4 screening of Alien puts the democratization of media front and center. This is what was so great about the Academy Theater—that seeing a movie doesn’t have to be a financial loss. Perhaps Portland's independent media arts community ought to be applauded for helping the independent movie theater system survive on such low profits.

The number of independent movie theaters in Portland amazes me. Though I have only made it to the Hollywood and Academy Theater thus far, I cannot wait to sit myself down on the many theater seats to come.

While I have media access on my mind, I also want to highlight another organization that supports accessibility to media or democratization of media in the Portland community: Open Signal. My cohort and I are in the middle of film workshops there. Its mission is to provide film production tools and knowledge so that locals can broadcast their productions on Open Signal's community access channel. On a tour of the studio, our guide compared Open Signal to a mosquito next to the big TV networks and stations. It doesn’t follow codes that they follow and allows for independent creations. They offer workshops I hadn’t even heard of like, ‘video glitching.’ It really seems like a system too good to be true. We have this mindset that media is supposed to cost a fortune to make and even more to be taken seriously. By providing equipment and workshops, they are empowering people of all ages to involve themselves in media. 

Sometimes we need little reminders that technology and expertise are not completely out of our hands. Being introduced to this resource and media community reminded me that there is hope for me to one day work somewhere where that media production isn't driven by profits but by the arts and knowledge-seeking community surrounding it.

–Isa Kaufman

“Oscar Peterson Didn’t Have to Think About Playing a C Chord, He Just Did It”

Monday marked the halfway point of our time in Portland. We had turned in our Audio
Documentaries the previous Sunday, and were ready to move on to the second segment of the
program: video.

Though Theo, Moira, and I had already captured a lot of footage at The Big Float (an
event encouraging public recreation in the Willamette River) on Saturday, we were just now
getting acquainted with the cameras which we were to use for the remainder of the program.
For some, this was a task not far from that of a scientist analyzing alien technology. As a more
audio-oriented person myself, I felt this whole-heartedly. I often found myself shifting my gaze
back and forth from the groupings of buttons spackling the side of the device to the rotating
dials on the lens, wondering if I had any hope of mastering this equipment in just four weeks.

Slowly, we made our way through the camera, learning of the iris dial to control
exposure, the focus dial to change the sharpness of our subject, and the zoom. As I fumbled
with the camera, our instructor, Tim, gave an insight I hadn’t thought of since my days in jazz
band: “Oscar Peterson didn’t have to think about playing a C chord, he just did it.” As a pianist
myself, who has spent hours upon hours studying Oscar Peterson and his uncanny ability to
move through changes with ease, Tim’s comment immediately clicked in my mind. For as much
classical training I’ve had in piano, I’ve found that just feeling my way around the keyboard is
one of the best ways to move through challenging changes. When I started thinking about this
in the context of recording video, it made perfect sense: in documentaries, we want the visuals
to give us a fluid entrance into the setting and move us through the scenes seamlessly. The
technical aspects of the camera work are less important than the “feel” or “vibe” one can make
come across through video.

Now, all I have to do is convince Theo and Moira to call ourselves the Willamette River
Trio.


Above is a video of Oscar Peterson performing in his trio. If running low on
time, I would suggest listening to the second tune, “Satin Doll.”

–Atlas Finch

This Biggest Float

The whole concept of hundreds of people submerging themselves into Willamette River, once rumored to be "toxic," sounded a bit like the opening sequence from The Day After Tomorrow—horrifying. As a newcomer to Portland all I’ve heard about Willamette are the dirty details of its dirty history. I’m not suggesting this is a routine conversation. However it’s a conversation that ultimately generates interesting personal accounts of outbreaks of rashes,and or other miscellaneous instances of feeling…“off.”  And so after hearing all of this gossip, I decided there was only one thing left to do…get in the river.

I recruited a lovely member of our group, Kienna, to accompany me on this journey, and we settled on these floating docks off the river. They bore nostalgia for my childhood summers in Maine. We eventually submerged ourselves in the river, after witnessing commercial boats coming to and fro adjacent to our makeshift tanning bed. The water appeared enticing, which made the initial plunge not a terribly difficult feat. However it was the exiting the river that proved to be especially challenging. As the current was constantly changing, it was harder to exert every muscle in my body to free myself from the rivers clutches. After multiple tries, I was able to achieve the beached whale flop back onto our safety dock.

While that was my first encounter, which I did take some creative liberties in embellishing, my second submersion was a different and more joyous affair. This past Saturday marked the 7th annual Big Float—a project put on by the Human Access Project, aka a group of zealous endorsers of the “riverlution.” They promote increased recreational activity in the Willamette. Decades ago, Portland began to find ways to prevent excess sewage and waste from entering the river, and as recently as a few weeks ago the government's website deemed that it is safe to swim in the river.

The festival was like an environmentalist's Coachella. Subaru had an especially big sponsorship and was able to put one of their forester car models on a floating dock, which was hilariously upstaged by the eclectic array of musicians that were circulated throughout the event.
My second time dipping in was significantly more populated, as I played bumper cars with other participants of the float, who had quite the collection of inner tubes masked as other modes of transportation.

–Moira Peterson

What a Music Thanatologist Taught Me About Storytelling

I woke up the morning of my interview filled with this odd jitteriness. This would be my first official interview for a piece I hoped to use, for once. To actually include in a portfolio. To actually show friends and family, when they ask what exactly is it that I am trying to do with myself in this life. To send back to the individuals whose story it was meant to serve. If I messed this one up, another learning experience gained, but the harsh self-critic inside of me would feel the loss of an opportunity to tell a story properly. I wanted so badly to create something I could be proud of enough to send out and give a life beyond it. A life where it would invoke emotion. Or spark a new dialogue (or perhaps continue an ancient one, in this case). My project is meant to explore questions surrounding death. Specifically, it tackles a practice that aims to help us talk about it, cope with it, and even make it normal

I was scheduled to interview Kieran Schnabel, a harpist and music thanatologist for Portland’s very own harpist hospice non-profit organization called SacredFlight. Essentially, Kieran helps people die peacefully. I knew that just as important as my interview questions and the sound quality of my audio would be my ability to truly listen and process all that he would be sharing with me.

So, in preparation for the interview, before double checking my batteries in my Zoom H1 or even printing out my interview questions, I meditated. I wanted to be sure my own worries and insecurities as a novice media maker wouldn’t distract me from being the responsible storyteller I aspire to be, especially with this type of heavy and fragile material. I slowed down my thoughts and did enough breathing exercises until I felt ready. Then, all of sudden, I realized time was catching up to me. All the jitters I thought left my system, rushed back in a panic. I got myself all put together and hurried over the local church where his office was located.

There was no amount of meditation I could have done to match the calmness and focus of Kieran in this interview. He spoke softly but purposely. Every word he shared with me carried emotion and deep reflection. As someone who always seeks meaningful exchanges, it was a truly memorable experience.

In our conversation, I saw many similarities between his work as a music thanatologist and that of any storyteller, especially those in the field of documentary. The same way I had to emotionally prepare myself to be attuned to my interviewee and present in the moment, so would he before any vigil he would be a part of. It’s a balancing act we have to perform to follow our training, whether it be interviewing skills or harp chords, while also undergoing the humbling process of throwing out what you were taught for what you know is necessary in the moment. I like to think it’s in those moments that we embrace how human all of us are, no matter how hard we want to put that aside. Intuition doesn’t have to be in conflict with doing diligent, professional work. Rather it is what sets us apart from the next professional.

When I asked Kieran about a vigil experience that had stayed with him, it took him some time to respond (understandably—he serves about six patients per day). I made sure he felt comfortable in those moments of reflection and silence. I had to remind myself to be comfortable with silence as well. In those moments, I tried to imagine all the different scenes Kieran and his harp have touched. I found I couldn’t imagine what it must feel like to witness a person die in front of you once, let alone six times in one day. While his work specifically deals with serving terminally ill and dying patients and my work doesn't, I realized our paths have some things in common. I believe that the duty a documentary storyteller has in the world is this: to carry every story—every layer of joy and suffering, every face documented, every place captured—deep inside of their heart.

It’s a gift, but it’s also a curse. Sometimes. It means you may very well carry hundreds of people’s stories inside you after a lifetime of doing the work of a storyteller or music thanatologist. It means you entered someone else’s world temporarily as a witness, and no matter if you helped or could’ve done better or perhaps worsened things, you leave and you live always remembering that. You are an outsider with a benevolent mission, but you will always be the outsider.

I feel that both storytellers and harpist hospice workers, in spite of those existential challenges, are healers. Hospice workers help people die in peace and extend that peace to the grieving family. Storytellers help us make sure that even when we do die, our souls, our stories, memories, cultures, and ideas, exist beyond ourselves. They help us face ourselves. They help us learn ourselves and those around us.

But who helps us healers heal ourselves? Kieran told me how important it was for him to have conversations after vigils to simply process his experiences. He explained that if he doesn't properly do that, he has trouble serving the next patient. This is good advice for storytellers as well. If we want our work to spark hard conversations, we should have those conversations with each other. If we want to heal anyone around us, we must be sure we are healing ourselves.

We cannot simply come into people’s worlds to exploit their stories and emotions for our own gain, hoping it’ll simply make us seem like better storytellers. We have a responsibility as people who are keepers of memories and histories outside ourselves. We need to think deeply about why we want to do this work, and if we are willing to give it the emotional labor and self-reflection it requires.

–Amanda Peckler

Sticking to a Deadline: One Man’s Search For Sticker Stardom

I grasped the plastic coated in pressure sensitive adhesive, admiring the multitude of colors and neat design emblazoned on it. A sticker from KBOO a gleaming radio tower with a red, Sovietesque star perched on top of the broadcast tower. The teal green sticker sits on my laptop now—a reminder of the independent radio station where it came from.

Over the past few weeks I’ve realized that Portland is a literal treasure trove for stickers. Erin Yanke of KBOO even said that she was giving us one sticker for our laptops and one for our bikes. I think the proliferation of stickers has something to do with the obscene number of people who enjoy biking way too much here. Nevertheless, the sticker that I received at KBOO hasn’t been the only sticker that I’ve proudly affixed to my clear MacBook Speck Case.

Looking at my laptop and my burgeoning collection of stickers I had an epiphanic moment: the stickers all tell a story. Whether it’s the sticker from KBOO that speaks of the rushed vox pop projects we attempted to complete there, or the Powell’s Books sticker that ushers in memories of a scavenger hunt gone horribly wrong, the little pieces of plastic aren’t just decoration. Here are some of the moments that stuck with me in Portland.

The Powell’s Books sticker that I meticulously cut to size with scissors to maintain room on my laptop is a reminder of the scavenger hunt where my wayward sense of direction didn’t help us in the slightest. We made it to Powell’s with no trouble. The sign is huge and the clue was obvious, but after that our group got horribly lost and behind. And it was irrevocably All. My. Fault. My sense of direction has never been good. The advent of Google Maps doesn’t help it either. I can hardly get around the city of Richmond where I lived for twenty years and still sometimes use GPS to get home. So, no surprise that in an entirely new city, Portland, my hopeless bravado and directionally challenged brain took us the complete opposite direction on multiple occasions. We ended up catching a TriMet bus to gain ground on the other groups scavenging. Luckily, my sense of direction didn’t put us on the wrong bus. I did venture back to Powell’s later that night though and have the fond memory of Roxane Gay signing a copy of her new book Hunger for me.

Another sticker highlight happened this past weekend when I went to the Mississippi Street Fair. I biked over to the fair and was wandering around in bearable heat when I came across a local artist’s booth. The artist was offering free stickers for an Instagram follow. Me, being the sticker aficionado that I am, recognized his artistic talent and followed him almost immediately. In return, he gave me a skillfully drawn sticker of a bird being held by a pair of creepy looking hands. So, not the happiest vibe for a street fair, but I wasn’t going to turn down a sticker that cool.

I remember the best parts of the Street Fair were the aroma of smoked barbecue from the BBQ ribs competition wafting around, a kindly man with a bubble machine making his way around the festival, and discovering an array of inventive graphic tees. One t-shirt had a picture of bike and the words “Put the Fun Between Your Legs” printed on it. It was a great experience to see droves of people gathering to buy community art, support local vendors, and eat local food.

Most recently I acquired a new sticker on Monday for X Ray FM Radio. We were meeting with Jefferson Smith and talking about the democratization of radio. X Ray FM is based in the basement of the Falcon Art Community at 5415 Albina Ave and the hallways are filled with grandiose paintings. We were informed on multiple occasions by both Phil and Jeff that many of the paintings were the work of Saddam Hussein’s portrait artist who was smuggled into the country.

Monday wasn’t the first time I saw X Ray FM’s digs because during the scavenger hunt we had made a foray into the space and taken pictures of the outlandish paintings. That Monday though, after Jeff’s lecture, I left with a tiny souvenir of the day and it wasn’t the notes I’d taken on the talk or the talk itself, but it was the X Ray FM sticker that was given out afterward.

Thinking back on the stickers I’ve picked up thus far this trip has helped me catalogue a lot of the memories that I’ve made so far, but not all of them.

The stickers don’t tell the tale of rushing on a bus on Fourth of July to catch the Hawthorne Bridge fireworks with Theo and Lucy. Or, that same day abandoning a Reed party where people entertained themselves by flipping hammers and hammering nails while getting hammered themselves (but not by actual hammers).

They also wouldn’t tell you about the David Lynch retrospective I went to on Friday night where I met Theo and Jessica to see Eraserhead. They definitely don’t tell you about the surprise fire alarms that were set off in the midst of the film or about David Lynch’s early work. The struggle catching the last bus home later that night in an effort to get groceries from Safeway is definitely not commemorated by stickers.

I think the most significant part of this summer that stickers don’t cover is my personal struggle to stick to a deadline. With so many things going on in Portland and so many worthwhile organizations to make a radio or documentary piece on the toughest part of the whole thing is distilling it down and quickly. The program is flying by and, as I discussed with Atlas on Sunday, after this week we’ll only have four weeks left of Portland and four weeks left to see our fellow MISCies. There’s still plenty of time to try to stick to deadlines though. I hope there’s still time to get more stickers. I’m cautiously optimistic about all of it, but hey, at least I’m optimistic.

—Jordan Joseph

Chopping Chicken, Cutting Audio

If the past few days have taught me anything, it’s this: condensing down almost three hours of recorded audio into only three to four minutes of smoothly produced, informative content is…difficult. I actually had a ton of fun with the recording process itself—on July 1st, I attended my first Tender Table meeting, and it was an awesome experience.

Being in a predominantly POC-occupied space while two women told stories through food produced audibly rich (and delicious) results. My interview with Stacey Tran, the founder of Tender Table, went similarly well; I was lucky enough to not only get a chance to talk with Stacey, but also to get a taste of her cooking! I spent the evening prodding my microphone towards her hands as she dexterously chopped apples, lettuce, and chicken. Eating in her apartment was a simultaneously intense and casual experience, and by the end of the night, I had taken roughly an hour and a half of audio.

But getting the audio was only half the battle. Now, I’m faced with the task of sifting through all this rough content. As much as I tried to craft the overall structure and shape of my project before the interview, I’m realizing that I’ll have to cut out so many chunks I love. For example, Stacey’s moving story about a Korean friend who was taught that her palate for wine would be ruined by eating too much kimchi.

It’s been painful trying to figure out the bits I think add character, but which others actually serve my overall narrative. After a night of snipping up the big chunks of the interviews, my Hindenburg clipboard is overflowing with audio clips titled things like: “Stacey cute,” “chicken sounds,” “’I know about pho,” and “chicken story.” So far, knitting these different sonic moments together has proved a difficult but rewarding process. 

—Lucy Stevems

Two Brief Moments in Portland

One

The first day back in Portland, I'm almost late for class.

I'm on the eastbound MAX refreshing Google Maps every other minute. The bus schedule says 1:40.

The MAX arrives on time; I rush to the bus station 300 feet away. The bus is supposed to be there in two minutes, but as my 2pm class approaches, I see no sign of the bus.

I'm getting worried. On Google maps, “delayed 2 mins” “delayed 4 mins” “delayed 8 mins”—the number keeps going up. I finally get on the bus at 1:53, and when I rush into to Citizen, class is just getting started.

I have a lot to say about the Portland public transportation system. The same thing happens again over the next couple of days—either late or early, the bus almost never arrives on time.

A couple days later, when I am on my way home, the bus takes a long stop next to Citizen. The ramp comes down, and two people sitting across from me move from their seats. Our driver steps down, lifts the handicapped seats, and helps a woman in a wheelchair move into the bus. The whole process takes about 4 minutes. That’s why buses are never on time—because people's needs must be taken care of. 

My best friend from high school who studied in France told me that while he was there, he always complained how French people have a habit of procrastination and inefficiency. Yet before he had to leave, he thought back and suddenly realized France might have been one of the countries that respond best to its citizens’ needs.

I started to appreciate Portland a little bit more.

Two

On the 4th of July I don't go out to one of the big parties nor to see the fireworks—I go to Madi’s host home, where they are having a low-key potluck BBQ in their backyard.

It's a beautiful backyard, with the fragrance of lavender, shade from tall trees, and wind chimes tinkling overhead. Madi tells me her host, Birgit, is a photographer from Germany. She’s a tall woman, both arms tattooed, and I noticed a newly tattooed German verse on her right arm.

“Were you there when the Berlin Wall came down?” I ask her.

“Oh, I was doing it!” she says with pride. “I just flew back to Germany, dropped my bags at my parents house and I was like, ‘Bye! Off to Berlin!’”

Fireworks start to boom throughout the neighborhood. I imagine Birgit's figure within the monochromic footage I've seen on TV—I have a hard time registering that a real person, having gone through a major moment in world history, is sitting right in front of me. She witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall, but she is also one of us, lives in Portland, and likes biking and art. She is one of the many interesting people Portland has brought to me so far.

-Coral Yang

Video Killed the Radio Star (and Radio Killed the Writer)

As anxious as it makes me to think about The Future and What Happens After College, I’m going to be a senior this year and suppose I can’t avoid it forever. Also, Phil and Molly are making me think about it, as we have to give them a description of our dream jobs this week. It’s just an assignment, but it’s led me into a minor existential crisis the past couple days.

I’ve always been an indecisive person. While most people switch their major maybe a few times in college, I’ve changed mine no less than eight times before finally settling on my current degree, Cultural Anthropology.

Growing up, I loved to read and write. I always had some novel or short story I was working on. So naturally, I started college as a Creative Writing major with the dream of becoming a writer. The thing is, it turns out I really hate English classes. I just felt like I was going nowhere. How was I going to actually make any meaningful change in the world by taking apart the rhetoric in Gilgamesh? (Not to say anything bad about English Lit folks—it’s just not my thing). That question took me on a prolonged detour with Public Health with plans of doing the Peace Corps and working in women’s health before finally settling on my current degree. Anthropology does, in an unexpected way, combine a lot of the aspects of the two fields I’d previously been torn between.

So fast forward back to week two of MISC, where I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I want to shape these new realizations into a career path for myself. And that, finally, brings us to the world of audio.

Hearing our mentors talk about radio and working on my own audio documentary project this week has made me think a lot more about pursuing it as a career. I think it’s both totally unexpected and totally natural that audio has made such a significant comeback in the 21st century. While it’s an old medium, not as flashy or immersive as film maybe, what it does is cater to is the go-go-go mentality we currently have as a society. It’s a rare form that you can consume while multitasking.

As a full-time student with two jobs, I don’t have a lot of free time to watch TV or read anything not related to school. But I do have time for podcasts. It’s the only kind of media I can consume consistently everyday, on my morning commute, as I deliver mail at work, as I make dinner, as I do dishes, as I fall asleep.

With NPR programs like Radiolab and This American Life leading the way, podcasts are increasingly becoming a source of entertainment and news for Americans. While the audience of podcasts still remains behind that of other media forms, it is steadily growing. As all of our radio mentors have talked about, the great thing about audio is that it’s much cheaper and more accessible to create as a solo freelancer. Audio lets you include more emotion than print without all of the people and equipment necessary for a professional-quality film. Audio requires only a journalist, a professional recorder, and editing software.

One of the main benefits of audio I’ve noticed during my own project is how you’re able to capture people’s emotion and personality more than you would be with print, while still being much less invasive film. The organization I’m working with serves weekly meals to women who have been affected by homelessness, poverty, the sex industry, and domestic violence. Not everyone wants their entire identity to be associated with a period of hardship they are going through.

Many of these women I interviewed are in very vulnerable positions and having their face on film could put them at risk. I feel I was able to have real conversations with all of the women I’ve spoken with, and I’m not confident I would have been as welcomed or given that same authenticity if I had a video camera in their face. It’s easier to forget about a recorder, which allowed us to have better conversations and also gave me a way of providing some of the women the anonymity they needed for their own safety. But I was still able to capture their voices and the overall feeling of the space in a more vivid way. It’s one thing to describe a scene, but it’s another to be able to actually hear the specific sounds in the room that made it feel so warm and welcoming- the dishes clinking, the doors opening, the conversations happening between old friends.

I’m much too indecisive to settle on any one medium just yet, but audio has definitely stepped up as my number one this past week. It’s an exciting and accessible medium that gives me a way to tell stories that matter in a creative and impactful way. Is it what I’m committing to for my whole life? I don’t know. But for this next week at least, that would be my answer.  

–Kienna Kulzer

Everyone Looking Up at the Sky Together

I woke up bright and early, peed, and went back to sleep until 11. How nice it was not to have class on the Fourth of July. Last week in Gearhart, our mentor Phil told us all about how the Fourth of July in Portland was “nuts.” Parties, music, tons of traffic, fireworks—we experienced it all.

I cooked breakfast and then hopped on the MAX to begin my commute from North Portland to downtown. My host’s condo is near the last stop on the yellow line, just about as far north as you can go before hitting the Columbia River. It's not a long ride, however, and I spent a good portion of it enjoying the fantastic view of Mount Hood from the train.

I wanted to use my day off to go see the Portland Japanese Garden, one of the things that had been on my list of touristy things to do while I’m here. The Garden was beautiful, with colorful flowers, peaceful waterfalls and ponds, and an even better view of Mt. Hood than from the train. It was an interesting contrast, seeing this Garden, which looked like it had been sliced out of a Japanese compound, situated in the middle of a forest of Douglas Firs, a trademark tree of the Pacific Northwest.

After seeing the Garden, I met up with some fellow students who were celebrating at a house near Reed College. It was really fun, but I didn’t stay for long, as I was eager to see the fireworks from the Hawthorne Bridge.

Three of us left the party and got on a bus, making it to the Bridge just minutes before the fireworks were to be set off. The ramp to the bridge was closed off to vehicles, so the bus let us off about a half mile from the bridge. We walked swiftly on the dark overpass, and as our eyes adjusted to the artificial twilight, we could see a bunch of people partying on the rooftops of the buildings next to us.

As soon as we got to the crowd on the bridge, the first firework went into the air. The three of us stood on the bridge together with the rest of Portland and watched. Someone I talked to about it later summed it up quite well: “There is something about everyone looking up at the sky together that makes me feel really good.” I totally understood what they meant. For the first time in a while, I felt like I had so much in common with a bunch of people I had never met. And it wasn’t because of race or where we grew up. It was because we all liked fireworks. If only the whole world would celebrate America’s birthday (just kidding)!

–Theo Morris

Group Dynamics, Competition, and Confidence in Journalist-Activist Spaces

I have spent the past week trying to find my footing as a student in a new program, a guest at a new home, and a stranger in a new city.

Immersing myself in this new space has brought up quite a bit of reflection. What do I hope to gain from this jam packed summer? Why do I want to be a journalist, and how do I hold on to that? Meeting with successful mentors in the field, and hearing them discuss their paths to success, has provoked a sort of gut check that cannot be achieved when I am merely sitting in a collegiate journalism class, hearing my professor drone on about “the real world” and the lucrative “job market.”

There are students across the country pursuing jobs that all eleven of us would like to obtain, but there is something more specific than our desired careers that brought us to Portland this summer. Yes, this is a media institute, but the key phrase here is “social change.” We are aspiring journalists, but we are also activists, and that will always be a difficult line to walk.

For starters, the ethics of journalism nearly juxtapose the ethics of activism. The journalist’s job is to interpret, contextualize, and convey nuances of an issue. Creating an informed debate is at the heart of journalism, while the job of the activist is to have a seat at the debate table, and to advocate for certain sides of an argument.

Furthermore, journalism is a profession and a livelihood. Activism is not so compartmentalized, and in many instances, it can be a way of life. This code of ethics reaches beyond the professional arena and impacts our relationships and our social interactions. So, how do we choose to look at the world if we are both? How do we as a student cohort choose to interact with each other this summer? Are we professional aspiring journalists who are competing for praise, for success, for airtime, and eventually for jobs? Are we also activists, who are working collaboratively to lift each other up, to dismantle systems of injustice, and to repeatedly check ourselves when feelings of capitalist-driven competition creep into our psyches? The lines are continually blurred.  And maybe we don’t have to pick one.

Most of us in the program this summer are all too familiar with competition-oriented academia. We are aware that the job market will be no different, and we would like to be prepared. At the same time, we recognize that the ethics of activism such as collaboration, respect, and awareness can often result in better journalistic content. This summer, when we gather around the table at Citizen to share our projects, I hope to feel supported by my peers, not fearful of their judgement and comparisons. Media making is an art form that requires vulnerability. It calls for creativity, for excitement, and for openness. That part of my brain tends to shut down when competition is at the forefront.

I feel that my peers this summer do agree with my previous statements, and hope for a similar group dynamic as I do. It is a conscious choice that we all must set an intention to uphold. Are we going to support each other when things get difficult? Will we center our interactions on concepts of inclusion and respect? Will we call on our activist mindsets, or will we revert to the competitive tendencies that we have spent most of our lives being trained to uphold?

Only time will tell.

–Madi Stapleton

Listening Past the Sound Bites

It was a cloudy Monday morning when I entered KBOO Community Radio station—headphones in, blasting "Psycho Killer" by the Talking Heads. This was the day we were going to learn about vox pops, which are short segments on radio or TV where multiple voices and opinions are spliced together. I arrived five minutes late after having rolled my ankle for the third time this month. In a disheveled state, I limped my way to the side a table where my fellow MISC students sat. I turned to face a woman with black hair and glasses. I recognized her as Erin Yanke, Youth Program Director at KBOO. She was going to be leading the workshop. Her voice was warm and playful as she introduced herself. Focusing on visual and audio storytelling, she has worked in community radio for a long time. I was eager to listen to her take on radio and activism.

I found it exciting to tour the production room and to hear examples of past reporting that the studio had aired. We critiqued and deconstructed each one, learning a little more about how to effectively curate voices to fit together in an audio piece. 

We then split into teams to interview the KBOO staff and each other. The question my team picked was “How does the work you do at KBOO reflect the mission statement of decolonizing mass consciousness ?” It was a complex question, but we were sure that we could make our interviewees comfortable enough for them to answer in an articulate manner. It turned out we were right—we got some very smart, complex answers. But when it came to editing on completely new software, we ran into deep confusion and frustration. We ended up becoming so overwhelmed by the software that we didn’t finish our project. As we came to discover, no one else in our group finished either.

I realized that the finished product wasn’t the point of this project. Erin wanted us to feel comfortable in our skin. She wanted us to have the self esteem to put something together and grasp a new concept. Her technique of inspiring the people around her to see the optimism in making mistakes instead of putting down people reminded me that there were certain journalists and journalism environments that I'd like to be a part of one day.

See, in the past week I had been questioning what my learning style was. Yes you can listen and take information in but for many people it is very hard to really comprehend instruction, strategy, and critical thinking. I was reminded that I don’t have to doubt myself to ask questions or experience something and fail.

Erin also stands as someone who is dedicated to the accurate representations of people's stories. Her work reflects KBOO’s mission statement. The saying, “You must learn the rules before you break them,” rings true with many professions. With the exception of respecting the FCC rules and basic engineering structure, KBOO admirably disregards many of the cookie cutter norms most stations follow. I was elated to learn that their mission statement was aimed to support the decolonization of mass consciousness.

Future journalists should be able to experiment, share their ideas, and not forced to conform to safe topics by authoritative figures' lack of patience. Journalists and storytellers should be able to spend four months on accurate reporting and come out with a story without the shame of being too invested. Yes production is a big deal, but we should also consider how a story can change the world. We have to be the outliers to make change, to identify ourselves as the humble outsiders who yearn for social justice. If it's not your thing that’s cool too, but for the sake of social justice don’t cover it up with the mission of working toward it. I think that our MISC cohort chose to be in this program because we cared so much about our impact, permanent records which we will imprint on the world one day that affects livelihood.

I want to take some time to encourage people to go see Erin Yanke’s documentary about police violence, Resisting Power, this coming Sunday at Leaven Community.

–Isa Kaufman

Dispatch from a Scavenger Hunt Champion

I haven’t been on a hunt since I was ten. I vividly remember listening to "Another One Bites the Dust" as the cold air dug its claws into me. I dug through the spring snow to find the last treasure. Every handful of snow I dug, I was an inch closer to glory: a plastic oblong sphere. I couldn’t stop looking, no matter how cold I was. I had forgotten that feeling until today. As we were let loose on the western bridge city, I felt a rush of energy flow into my caffeine-lacking, just-awoken body. We were going to win.

I never lost hope, whether Emily was toughing it up the Burnside bridge or Lucy was bandaging her injured toe. Sure, we may not have been the underdogs, as two of the three of us were familiar with the territory, but that didn’t mean we were lacking heart. From our lack of forethought on meal planning to our garb, we gave ourselves roadblocks. But we were eager to overcome.

Halfway through, we had the lead. We couldn’t lose. But sure enough, as we returned our steeds to their stables, a group of four emerged from the heat-distorted horizon. Beat by beat, neck and neck, our two groups battled through the environment. As we realized we would be stuck together for the next few stops, the tension subsided. We could rest. But only for a moment, as out of the corner of my eye, three figures loomed large behind us. How could this be happening. It was them. The last three. It was down to the wire.

The final minutes of the hunt were a blur. I remember responding to Jordan’s “it’s not a competition, bro” with a sharp “life’s a competition.” I remember Emily seeking any water she could find, throat parched, stomach screaming for sustenance. I remember Lucy yelling “go, go, go!” as the final stop came into view.

Against all odds, we prevailed. Sure, Molly and Phil reiterated how this hunt was not a competition, but we knew deep down they were proud we had won. We were unsure as to how our peers would react to finding out they hadn’t conquered the 2017 MISC scavenger hunt, but our sweat-drenched clothes warded off any who dared oppose us. Sometimes people say I take things too seriously. Take this seriously: we were the champions.

–Atlas Finch

A Guide to Portland Pronunciations

This week our group finally took the leap of faith and plunged into life in Portland. After what seemed like hours of listening to "Sweet Caroline," we returned to our home away from home, also known as the Citizen store front. It was here that we all eagerly awaited to be greeted by our host families and whisked away to their humble abodes. However as time dwindled on , it was reminiscent of being the last kids in Pre-K , who would excitedly crane their necks at the sound of the door opening.

Once I was connected with my new Portland dad, I was whisked away to the neighborhood adjacent to the Hollywood District called "Rose City Park" named after the local elementary school. Here I was shown my new home for the remainder of my time in the 97217, and began to learn some of Portland’s rich, though maybe not the most diverse, history.

My family welcomed me with open arms, and explained that as empty nesters they were looking forward to having the house full again. I’ve become acquainted with the home's two cats, especially the elder, who is 20 years old and eats baby food.

My homestay hosts bestowed upon me an assortment of atlases and maps, just in case my modern technology failed me. They also took me on a tour of my new “home” in their Prius.

This weekend we will be checking out a few of Portland’s cultural gems including a Jazz and Blues festival by the Willamette River as well as a book talk by Roxane Gay.

I think I’ll end with a takeaway from this week: a woman sitting next to me on the bus educated me that Albina Avenue is pronounced "alb-I-na" like "albino," information I am incredibly grateful for as to not embarrass myself at the food carts, or "pods," down on Skidmore Avenue, where there's even a dish named after the notorious street.

Another fun pronunciation lesson: Willamette is with a sharp a, like you’re crinkling up your nose.

The adventure has only just begun, and I don’t really know where it’ll go but I’m excited to see where this path takes me!

–Moira Peterson

What The Babadook Can Teach Us About Social Justice

I have to tell you that I am deeply, fundamentally not at all a horror movie person. My horror meter peaks out at Stranger Things and that’s really pushing it. But somehow, after much poking and prodding from Atlas and Lucy (our cohort’s horror connoisseurs), this week we all sat together and watched The Babadook (2014).

The next morning, squished up next to one another in the living room before a seminar, Molly (MISC’s coordinator) teased and asked, “What can the Babadook teach us about social justice?” Now, we’re less than a week into the program, with 500 things flying through the air at any given time, but I can’t seem to escape one facetious comment. In this brief time I’ve found myself thinking deeply about a whole lot of things: well-told stories, systems of injustice, mobilizing meaningful change through media, and—bafflingly, of all things—The Babadook

If this is sounding a little wacky, let me backtrack for a moment. On Tuesday, Outside podcast’s Peter Frick-Wright led us through a storytelling and audio production session. “At its most basic,” he began, “a story is a conflict and a resolution.” During the break, Isa prompted my favorite conversation during our time at camp with one probing question: how do you resolve a conflict about an ongoing, entrenched social issue?  

This warrants a quick summary (spoiler alert, sorry). Essentially, The Babadook follows a mother and son and their midnight hauntings by a shadowy, scythe-fingered creature called the Babadook. While the boy acknowledges the monster’s presence and prepares himself to fight back, the mother—who, after seven years, is still mourning the death of her husband and struggling to support her oddball, outcast son—dismisses his fears as childish ravings even in the midst of accelerating signs and bumps in the night.

“The more you deny me, the stronger I get,” the Babadook tells her via the world's creepiest, most disturbing children’s book. Denial leads to full-on Babadook possession and soon she’s chasing her son around the house with a massive kitchen knife. The climax takes us to the basement where the boy’s booby traps force his possessed mother to confront the monster head-on. “You have to let it go!” he yells. She vomits up a stream of black sludge. “I think this is a metaphor for grief!!” a member of our group shouts mid-scene during our viewing. Evidently. The Babadook closes out with mother and son gardening in the sun-saturated backyard. After gathering a bowl full of worms, the mother makes her way down the basement stairs and sets the bowl down on the concrete floor. Something shifts in the shadows and the bowl slides from the sunny patch of floor to the shaded corner, pulled by phantom limbs. She hasn’t defeated the Babadook, we’re meant to understand, but she has carved out a space for it. She is healing her grief by accommodating it.

This is a long-winded, but I think useful way to get at the intrinsic challenges of fusing media storytelling with social justice. Isa’s question—“how do you resolve a conflict that has no obvious ending?”—points to a fundamental question that I hope to wrestle with for the rest of the summer: do the formulaic demands of storytelling ontologically diverge from the messy, entrenched realities of injustice and oppression? “Your story can’t solve poverty in America, so how do you resolve a story about poverty?” Peter’s answer went something like this: to find resolution in an ongoing conflict, pivot. “Find a seam or an avenue in the story that will get you to the landing your audience needs.” Essentially, look harder—things aren’t always what they appear and resolutions will rarely look the way you’d expect them to.

What can the Babadook teach us about social justice? Sometimes you have to pivot in unexpected directions for your story to find its natural resolution. Sometimes instead of killing the monster, you let it shack up in your basement.

–Emily Curtis

Seen, Heard, and Felt by Others

As our MISC time at camp came to an end, I was filled with this new sense of warmth and togetherness with my fellow aspiring media & change makers. Never have I been around more dynamic, intelligent, and hilarious conversations about films, music, documentary ethics and even reality television.

From sharing a house together for five days, to recording one another’s thoughts and wild moments to prepare for these audio postcards, to making food together, and sitting around bonfires together, so far my time spent with everyone in MISC has been super chaotic, inspiring, tiring, and rewarding all at once.  

When we arrived back to our home base Citizen, I couldn’t help but feel this rush of excitement and anxiety for all the experiences and growth that will come our way in this space throughout the next six weeks. I believe it’s where the magic will happen as well. The “magic” of media making which occurs in the process of making ideas and visions which only exist inside of our minds at the moment into a tangible product that can been seen, heard, and felt by others.

However, what’s even more special about these projects we are now embarking on this summer is that they are being crafted from a place of passion inside all of us for empowering, fueling, and inspiring social change. Whether that may mean changing someone’s mind about a stance they held on a specific social issue or creating a platform for someone to express their personal truth that traditionally would be silenced or influencing a political policy affecting an entire city, state, or country.  

Tomorrow marks the first official day of beginning the early stages of our audio documentary project. While I have some experience over at Skidmore College combining visual and audio elements to help tell a story, never have I tackled purely using sound to do, like we required to do when making our audio documentary pieces.

I'm curious to experience both what may feel limiting without delivering visual information as well as the new possibilities audio documentary storytelling will bring! For this media pursuit, I am hoping to work with a Portland non-profit organization called The Women’s Beat League, who work to empower women and female-identified individuals who are interested in djing and production work as well as cultivate a community for them. I’m very excited to potentially work with them and see where this incredible MISC opportunity will take me as an aspiring media maker and social rights activist.

–Amanda Peckler

An Unconventional Summer Camp

I almost mistook a side alley for my home for the next six weeks. I was on the way to the Media Institute for Social Change meet-up and had just bumbled through my first use of Uber. I attempted to be dropped of at 3636 N Mississippi Ave, the program’s headquarters, but instead somehow managed to set the Uber to the Mississippi Ave a street over that was just a dilapidated alley. I trekked my bags a street over to the headquarters: Citizen. There I met with the ten people who I would soon travel what was supposed to be two hours to a cabin in Gearhart. After introducing ourselves several times as other program members arrived, I had my first foray into the Portland food scene.

I ordered a burrito bowl and awkwardly sat at a picnic table as everyone else sat and watched me eat while drinking fancy ginger lime Agua Fresca. Soon after my culinary extravaganza we all piled into a black rental van that somehow fit twelve people and twice as many bags.

We passed the car ride playing Heads Up and jamming out to our roadtrip playlists. I got to know a few people along the way. I learned that there were two of us (Lucy and Theo) who went to Carleton College and studied media studies. I also learned that three people all went to Western Washington University (Isa, Kienna, and Madi).

We hit traffic on a windy mountain road surrounded by droves of trees. Being trapped in a van with near-strangers while playing Heads Up, doing horrendous accents, and attempting to mime making a bed was interesting, but altogether enjoyable.

Once we got to the cabin we were assigned rooms and Atlas and I were relegated to the basement to share a bunk bed as the girls shared rooms full of double beds and Theo got his own queen size. We were all assigned meal crews and Atlas and I got the only two-person group. Later that night had a dinner of impromptu pizza made by the first meal crew. Afterward, we did personal interviews of other program members.

The next day we shared our media self-portraits we made with the group. People made everything from a compilation of snapchat videos to a layering of sound bytes from the past year. Then, we had lectures from Phil on interview questions as we listened to This American Life and Fresh Air.

In our free time we explored the beach. The beach was like a dessert with fragments of desiccated branches curling out of the sand. It was like a graveyard for trees and sea creatures. We even found the skeleton of some sort of animal and an intact crab exoskeleton. Moira brought the crab back to the cabin Lord of the Flies style, speared on a stick. The night concluded with us all covering our eyes during a screening of The Babadook. I could have sworn I heard the Babadook’s knocking that night.

On the third day of camp we got through Phil’s lectures on storytelling. It wasn’t so bad because we got to listen to clips from Radiolab on Orson Welles’s "War of the Worlds." We ended the day by watching My Own Private Idaho at Phil’s behest. It wasn’t what we expected, but it was a good movie nonetheless directed by prolific and also extremely strange director Gus Van Sant.

On Monday we had to go to Astoria and interview a stranger. I interviewed a mother who was sitting alone in the ARC Arcade close to the river. She told me about growing up in a poor family, being separated from her husband while he toured in Iraq, and having her newborn baby. It was nerve-wracking finding someone who looked interesting enough to interview and who was approachable. Mostly it was just scary to approach a stranger.

Yesterday we had the pleasure of meeting with local Portland media-maker Peter Frick-Wright. He taught us about storytelling from a radio perspective and the tricks of the trade to recording good audio. We messed around with Hindenburg and listened to This American Life. He taught us how to duck audio under an interview, layer audio, and use reverb. Probably the most important lesson I learned from Pete though was to always unplug people’s fridges before starting an interview. He said to leave keys in the fridge to remember to plug it back in after an interview. Note to self: popsicle keys are better than bad audio.

–Jordan Joseph

My Private Oregon

For the next six weeks, our Summer Documentary Program students will be taking the wheel at the blog. In our first student post, Lucy Stevens (Carleton College 2018) reflects on her time at our "summer camp" orientation in Gearhart.

At MISC’s coastal summer camp, one might describe the learning curve as ‘experimental.' Sunday afternoon, as one giant mass, we put on our headphones and found our training wheels together. It was simultaneously hilarious and enlightening; here we were, tottering around on sleepy beach-town back roads, extending out our new microphones towards the environment the way eccentrics comb the local beach with metal detectors.

Unlike most of the students on this program, as a native Portlandian, I grew up going to the Oregon coast and have actually spent a lot of time in and around Gearhart. However, I was surprised as the familiar roar of the ocean and titter of birdsong, fed to me through my earbuds, took on a different quality, becoming more crisp and intimate. Suddenly, each crunching gravel footstep, each peal of laugher, became potential material for my audio postcard, one of our current assignments.

Though the tiny device in my hand, the native soundscape was becoming creative material. I began to interview the others intensely, almost tongue-in-cheek, half searching for sound bites and half wondering at the power of my Zoom H1—and entirely certain that most of my recordings were going to be drowned out by audible distortion of the coastal breeze. But that was a minor concern; after nights of enjoying creatively scrapped-together meals, watching scary movies, and sharing anecdotes about our different lives across the country, it was exciting to be making our own content together.

By Monday morning, after a somewhat bewildering (but entertaining) screening of My Own Private Idaho the night before, the time for tinkering was over: our MISC group was taking Astoria to test our interviewing skills! It was really interesting to go back to a town I’ve hung around in the past to interview a complete stranger. I ended up having two conversations with people from two entirely different walks of life, but I think that I ended up with a much more fully fleshed-out impression of Astoria as a permanent residence and as a brief stopping place.

Afterwards, everyone seemed to have peeled back some interesting corner of Astoria through each of their interviews. I’m so excited to read more about the stories they uncovered! 

–Lucy Stevens