Lynn Jackson – Promoting humanity through music

If you ask Kitchener singer/songwriter Lynn Jackson her musical philosophy, she’ll tell you songwriting has no boundaries. Lyrics tell stories, and storytelling is how we understand each other.

“I’ve always known that music would be a big part of my life, but I decided to pursue it bit by bit,” she reminisced. “It was a series of steps. Booking early shows, starting to write my own songs, and making my first album – this led to my next release and first cross-Canada tour.”

Creative Images for Creative People

Portrait of singer/songwriter Lynn Jackson – Photo credit: CORE Photography

Now, eight albums later – Songs of Rain, Snow and Remembering releases on Busted Flat Records in 2016 – Lynn has realized the desire to evoke empathy in original music.

Lynn Jackson performs Riding Out The Storm from Songs of Rain, Snow and Remembering.

Experimenting with classical music on the violin and poetry, and then transitioning to playing guitar, singing and writing music, strengthened the relationship between lyrics and melodies.

Her first paying gig was in 1999, at a Kitchener venue which no longer operates. Lynn began to find her “stage legs,” allowing her to discover the art of performing during her first few rounds of open mics. Her first bookings were a by-product of these events.

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Photo credit: Emerging Design

It was getting over the hang-up of songs requiring structure that released her into a new world of writing. Although songs can contain structure of sorts, Lynn teaches us that we should be open-minded and not try to “box in” creativity. It’s better to let the song be what it wants to be.

 

“I say, if it wants to be a rock song with lots of distortion, or a ballad with tons of verses and little room for choruses or a bridge, it’s all OK,” she believes.

As a musician, Lynn has no gimmicks to rely on; instead, she maintains impeccable rhythms and memorable words which resonate with Canadian audiences. “Trial by fire” is how she views her tenure as an artist.

Where inspiration is concerned, Lynn’s ideas come from almost anywhere.

“It can be a great song or lyric, a great story, or things I see or think about every day,” she said. “It’s all those things blended together that seem to transform themselves in my dreams at night. Life’s about the ups and downs and the in-between. That’s the stuff I try to write about. The reality of the everyday – I like to think people can relate because we’re all living it.”

From August 1, 2004 to present, Lynn Jackson has released Night Songs, Sweet Relief, Restless Days, Soft Stars, Coming Down, Down in the Dust, The Acoustic Sessions, and Songs of Rain, Snow & Remembering.

Her songs, although vastly different from one another, exude a strong sense of solace, peace and empathy to the listener. He/she will feel as though Lynn is conversing with him/her.

Visit Lynn Jackson’s official website, and subscribe to her Facebook, Twitter and MySpace updates.

One professor’s mission to combine gaming with learning

What do Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite have in common?

At first glance, they appear to be award-winning first-person shooter games for the Xbox, Playstation or personal computer systems, intended for gaming audiences above 17-years-old.

In actuality, these games are core teaching methods in Dr. Amy Green’s Bioshock, Bioshock Infinite and World Literature course at the University of Nevada.

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Amy M. Green, Ph,D., Professor of English at the University of Nevada

A lifelong gamer – playing her first games on Coleco Vision and Atari – Dr. Green combines the study of video games with the study of literature. She believes video games tell rich, complex stories, and advocates the addition of “digital storytelling” to post-secondary curricula.

“We use many of the same techniques I teach to study literature in our study of digital storytelling,” she explained via e-mail. “That gets expanded upon because digital stories have unique features, like the agency of the player and immersion.”

In Bioshock, Bioshock Infinite and World Literature, which Dr. Green cites as a popular course, students play both games and read a variety of texts from the 18th Century to the modern day. To create cohesion between materials, the course groups these games’ thematic elements with literary themes identified in assigned readings.

The first unit is on moral and philosophical thought: students begin by playing Bioshock, and then analyze Ayn Rand’s Objectivism by reading an excerpt of Atlas Shrugged. They also examine other viewpoints, similar to thinkers from the European Enlightenment era.

“I think students gain additional knowledge about why storytelling is important and what stories teach us about our common humanity,” Dr. Green reflected. “Plus, they benefit from studying seriously and with care something most of them come into my courses already enjoying!”

“I find my students in my hybrid gaming/literature courses are better writers and better critical thinkers than in my literature-only courses. My only explanation for this is an increased investment in the material. They enjoy these courses and I love to teach them!”

On May 3, 2014, Dr. Green delivered a Ted Talk on the existence of storytelling in video games. She demonstrated how games such as The Last of Us contain literary themes similar to those found in novels, plays, poems, etc. In this example, “nature versus oneself” is prominent throughout the storyline, as the lead character must answer an arduous question. With humanity deteriorating from a virus known as the “infected,” one child holds the key to a cure. Should this child be sacrificed for the rejuvenation of human life? Or should she be spared out of love, putting the future of society in jeopardy?

“The storytelling element of games has allowed video games, as a medium, to really emerge as important artifacts worthy of serious study,” she’s learned throughout her life. “My inspiration, then, lies in my own love of gaming and my many experiences of being lost within a great video game’s story, much as I would be lost in a great book!”

Most recently, Dr. Green has founded a Rebel Raiser campaign entitled “Support Digital Storytelling through Gaming.” The goal, as stated on its website, is to increase access to digital storytelling for students, and to gauge interest and success of having gaming equipment available to them at the University of Nevada’s campus.

This pilot program, made possible through the help of UNLV’s Lied Library, will allow the placement digital gaming equipment – consoles and games – on course reserve for English Literature classes.

The objective is to purchase the following items:

  • 2 new Playstation 3 consoles;
  • 2 new Playstation 4 consoles;
  • Extra controllers, as these tend to take the most wear and tear;
  • Extra sets of connecting cables to facilitate ease of use;
  • Carrying cases for the consoles and controllers for ease of checkout and to protect the equipment.

As well as the following games – the intention is to save costs wherever possible by purchasing used copies of the games. Two copies of each game would be purchased.

  • BioShock Infinite (comes with BioShock);
  • BioShock 2;
  • The Last of Us;
  • This War of Mine – The Little Ones; 
  • Life Is Strange;
  • Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture;
  • Soma;
  • Telltale Games’s The Walking Dead first season;
  • Silent Hill HD Collection;
  • Dishonored Definitive Edition;
  • Mass Effect Trilogy.

Click here for more information on Amy Green’s academic tenure You can also view her Twitter handle for updates related to her campaign and education.

Secrets to a triumphant PR internship

Communications, media and marketing students will embark on program-sanctioned work placements at some point in their academic careers. Transitioning from the classroom to a temporary workplace may seem daunting and nerve-racking; however, there are ways to guarantee a successful practical learning opportunity.

From my experiences developing public relations projects with real-world results, I have compiled four secrets to triumph in your work placement, internship or co-op term:

  1. Treat it as a job.

Although you’re not a professional yet, a work placement should be treated as full-time employment. Aim to be punctual every day, and inform your supervisor if you’re going to be late or absent, just as you would at your part-time job.

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Consider your placement a top priority: dress appropriately, exemplify strong verbal and written communication skills, and respect everyone. Occasionally, pitch ideas on how your company can maintain its communication strategies, engage stakeholders via social media and its website, etc. This shows that you’re a go-getter and are passionate about your craft(s).

     2. Ask questions.

Your internship is an integral part of your program; it’s a time for you to apply classroom knowledge to an actual organization. Establish rapport with your placement supervisor and ask as many questions as possible. It’s not a good idea to pester him/her on an hourly basis (you don’t want to be a nuisance), but on the first day of your internship, start a conversation about company culture, current public relations initiatives – internally and externally – and how he/she thinks your expertise could help the company achieve its goals.

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Set up weekly meetings to assess your progress on ongoing projects. This is the perfect time to seek feedback on hard skills learned in your program, as well as soft skills in the workplace, such as time management, attention to detail, and active listening.

  1. Listen to your colleagues’ wisdom.

Acquaint yourself with coworkers and form positive relationships with them. Ask them about their roles within the company, what they like about working there, and how they entered their respective industries. Make note of what advice they give you when it comes to starting a career, networking, and how to be successful in their lines of work.

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Ask these questions sporadically. For the rest of the time, focus on your work, and converse with coworkers occasionally. Discuss things like the news or industry trends.

  1. Liaise with your professor(s) regularly.

When I began my work placement while studying public relations, my program co-ordinator assigned each student a professor – by whom we were taught that semester – to act as a liaison. If any issues arose during our placements, or we had questions about our work, we could contact our liaison for advice.

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Unless your placement requires weekly status reports to be submitted, email or call one of your professors every two weeks to discuss current events. Inform them of the kind of work you’ve been doing, how you’re getting along with people, and, most importantly, what you’ve been learning.

Co-ops, work placement and internship supervisors won’t expect students to perform at the same level a practitioner with 10 years’ experience would. So if you enter with the mindset that you’ll apply your current knowledge and engage in practical learning, you’ll be guaranteed a successful work term.

Our kingdom is free… from a wicked jumpsuit?

Video Game Review

The Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes

Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Released: October 22, 2015

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4.6/10

Becoming a hero involves four key things: possessing a courageous spirit, leading by example, accomplishing notable feats, and, most importantly, rocking swanky fashion while defeating your enemy.

The Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes introduces “stylish victory” in the literal sense. Our protagonist, Link, doesn’t rely on his trusty sword and shield to vanquish evil. In this adventure, he has the option of purchasing clothing to accompany his trademark tunic, hat and tights, each with its own advantage.

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One costume, for instance, enables him to shoot beams from his sword, eliminating a baddy from afar. Another one illuminates his body in dark mansions or caves, making for a safe trip.

This unparalleled concept creates only momentary enjoyment. Some classic Zelda puzzle-solving and unintentional brain training exists, but beyond that, the plotline is silly, borderline ridiculous.

Set in Hytopia, a kingdom inhabited by fashion-obsessed people, its Princess Styla is cursed by “The Lady” (a witch), who forces her to wear a black jumpsuit which cannot be removed. Styla’s devastated father, King Tuft, calls for three legendary, totem-pole-forming heroes to fulfill the prophecy of restoring the kingdom’s couture-mania.

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Link, along with two other swordsmen, excurse to the Drablands to conquer its eight arduous regions, in hopes of stopping the Lady and freeing Princess Styla from unroyal embarrassment.

There are dribs and drabs of slightly satisfying challenges in Triforce Heroes, blended with a dry, shallow storyline. These ingredients didn’t produce a true Zelda title. While traversing through a dungeon or fighting a boss, I wanted to tell myself it was to rescue a country from vileness’s clutches, but when I remembered it was to remove a princess’s jumpsuit, I became unmotivated.

The main event was to stack the three heroes on top of one another, essentially “totem-poleing” to strike tall enemies, activate a switch perched atop a high ledge, etc., a technique that outlived its creativity in a matter of two levels.

The lack of character development made it impossible to feel any sense of accomplishment. The backstory of the “Triforce Heroes” wasn’t discussed at great length, breaking potential relatability to or humanization of protagonists, secondary characters, or even antagonists.

It’s a shame this installment turned out to be stale. I was looking forward to Triforce Heroes the moment it was announced on Nintendo Direct, anticipating an inadvertent revival of the classic Four Swords games: two adventures comprising more than one hero.

A saving grace is a single-player mode is available to those who would rather complete the game on their own; however, the gathering of the “doppels” (the name given to the two non-controlled heroes) was excruciating. Instead of the three Links travelling in formation, only one is led by the player, while the others stand lifeless. This requires the player to “totem-pole” the gang and guide them to the next objective.

Usually, the franchise contains rich, colourful scenarios spawning limitless theories and debates. At times, it’s hard to tell that Triforce Heroes continues the tale of the omnipotent Triforce, Hyrulean warrior and princess, and Ganon, the leader of desert brigand race. I don’t recommend this game for long-time Zelda fans, or casual gamers seeking entertainment.

Learning through literature – fiction provokes thought and reflection

My life lessons weren’t taught solely by my mother, schoolteachers, or personal experiences. Getting lost in the vicissitudes of a fictional character’s life allowed me to witness conflict between oneself, nature, or others, granting me knowledge of how to solve similar problems in real life.

I’ve narrowed down my three favourite novels from Grades 1 to 12, identifying the impact each has had.

Who is Bugs Potter? Gordan Korman

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Written by children’s author Gordon Korman, Who Is Bugs Potter? follows the story of a mustachioed, gifted drummer named Bugs Potter, who shares a room with high school student and flautist Adam Webb, who is settling along with his school’s orchestra at Toronto’s Hotel Empress.

Night after night, Bugs sneaks out of his hotel room and loiters around a suite inhabited by BiBi Lanay, a fictitious movie star staying in Toronto with her entourage, in hopes of meeting her. He also promotes his drumming ability by traveling to exquisite clubs and becoming a media sensation in Toronto.

Bugs’s wish of meeting BiBi Lanay comes true when he plays at Adam’s high school orchestra festival, and sees that Miss Lanay has grown quite fond of him as a newly-famous musician.

Even though they might not be prevalent, I’ve identified two themes in Who Is Bugs Potter?.

At first, Adam was reluctant to call Bugs his roommate, but he eventually warmed up to him and they became friends. The theme/lesson is anyone can befriend a person they view as the polar opposite of themselves, or not as their “equal.” If you take time to get to know someone who seems differently-minded, you’ll discover that you can form a strong relationship and expand your horizons in terms of knowledge and perspectives.

The second theme is persistence and knowing the right times and places to pursue your desires and unleash your talents. If you’re bold and know what you want, it’s a matter of meeting the right people and doing the right thing.

Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson

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Speak realistically depicts what would happen to a teenage girl if she were sexually assaulted, faced mental health issues, and was understood by no one, not even her own family.

Melinda Sordino, a high school freshman from Syracuse, New York, attends an “end of summer” party with her elementary school friends. She meets Andy Evans, a soon-to-be senior of Merryweather High, the school Melinda will be attending that autumn, who lures her into his car and rapes her. After calling the police and consequently ending the party, Melinda’s friends ostracize her during the new school year, unaware of her traumatic experience.

Melinda becomes depressed and unable to speak. Her parents believe her silence is a cry for attention, and ignore any non-verbal messages she attempts to send. She spends the ninth grade mentally replaying the assault, and trying to determine the next step in her life.

Symbolism is a prominent literary element in Speak. Mr. Freeman, Melinda’s art teacher, represents freedom of expression, speech and thought using almost anything as a medium. Mr. Neck, Melinda’s social studies teacher, represents dogmatism: the dissemination of facts and principles without concern for the opinions of others.

Throughout the story, Melinda struggles between finding her voice and staying mute as to not “disrespect” authority or cause a ruckus.

With Mr. Freeman’s mentoring, Melinda “speaks” using pictures, physical objects and abstract paintings, which she shows him before finally telling him her story.

No matter how dire a situation seems, speaking up is the best way to go. Speak teaches this through a first-person perspective of Melinda Sordino’s sardonic humour and observations of her surroundings. There are people (e.g. Mr. Neck) who misuse power and shut others down abusively, but you have to find the right way to express yourself and exercise your rights.

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

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The Kite Runner is my favourite high school novel. It explores circularity of life, and culpability not for one’s actions, but for one’s lack of intervening.

Set in Kabul, Afghanistan, two boys named Amir and Hassan enjoy kite fighting. Amir’s father, Baba, loves both children, but continuously brands Amir as “weak” and “lacking courage.” An older sociopathic boy, Assef, sadistically causes violence any way he can, and torments Hassan for being a Hazara, who he considers an inferior race to the Pashtuns. As he’s about to attack Amir with his brass knuckles, Hassan defends his friend by threatening to sling a rock into Assef’s eye.

Hassan wins a kite-fighting contest and is confronted by Assef and his gang, who demand that Hassan hand over his kite in exchange for freedom. Upon his refusal, Assef attacks Hassan and sexually assaults him. Amir, standing a fair distance away, witnessed this and ran away, rather than stopping the event.

Amir flees to Fremont, California, marries a woman named Soraya, and ultimately adopts Sohrab, who is revealed to be the child of Hassan – who was killed by the Taliban.

The concept of guilt for not doing something is unprecedented. It shows that telling yourself “you should have done something” is just as bad, or sometimes worse, than saying “I shouldn’t have done that.” Growing up, it taught me that you should gauge when and when not to act. Sometimes, it’s best to not do anything at all, but when a loved one’s life is at risk, doing nothing can be costly.

The Kite Runner also teaches us that life is circular; in other words, what goes around comes around. Committing a crime hurts the criminal as much as it hurts the victim.

Literature entertains, mystifies and teaches. Even a fictionalized story can provoke thought and reflection, making you question things in your own life.

Musical artists – establishing and maintaining a social media presence

In a new age of music marketing, artist development and promotions have evolved. It’s imperative for every singer and musician – independent or signed to a label – to establish and maintain a strong, positive social media presence.

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In the 2010s, many people rely on technology to consume information instantly, without having to wait for evening news broadcasts or daily newspapers. This generation of music connoisseurs expects to be “connected” to their favourite artists 24/7, awaiting album/EP announcements, photos and videos, and random musings at a time convenient to them. They may try to engage in a virtual conversation with you by commenting on a post, tweet or photo.

Here are three suggestions to creating and sustaining a viable social media identity, while attracting a multitude of followers and fans.

  1. Know your audience.

When reaching out to potential supporters, there’s no such thing as “the general public.” A target market or key public, a homogenous group you hope will become your fan base, must be identified and understood. Consider hiring a public relations professional to research demographics, psychographics, musical interests and favourite activities – i.e. nightclubbing, attending larger-scale concerts and music festivals.

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Get a sense of the language they use while interacting with others, what fascinates, angers or amuses them, and times and days they regularly use their channels. For instance, if you notice your target market usually posts on Saturdays between 12 – 5 p.m., this is an “optimal posting time,” a recommended period in which your comments, photos, or announcements should be posted. This can be accomplished by browsing Twitter and Instagram feeds, YouTube channels, and Facebook accounts, and then incorporating these findings into your social media outlet(s).

  1. Select your social media channels.

Based on audience research, choose a realistic number of social media outlets. Stray away from selecting every existing outlet, as it’d become difficult to manage posts and follower engagement.

I propose two to four outlets your audience uses on a regular basis. To save time and energy, sign up for a free Hootsuite account, a service which allows seamless streaming of multiple channels, as well as content management and creation to a single, couple or all your social media outlets.

More information and tutorials are available on the official website.

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  1. Analyze your following; make necessary changes.

Besides research and implementation, evaluation is an important process. Now that you’ve established your social media presence, review and assess your progress so far. If you decide on Hootsuite for ease-of-flow, use their tracking and analytical options (e.g. UberVU) to see which of your postings garnered likes, favourites, shares, retweets, etc. Also look at which ones didn’t fare off as well as you would have liked them to. As unpleasant as it may be, this data will help you to alter posting times, change the tone or language of your content, or maybe change social media channels altogether.

As an artist, you lead a hectic life. If you face challenges establishing a social media presence, seek out a digital-savvy person to help you along the way.

Volunteering on a budget

Volunteering is one of the best ways to learn new skills, expand your network and possibly land a job.

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In high school, you may have to accumulate a number of community service hours in order to graduate. In college and university, professors and career counselors suggest you take on pro bono work while attending classes and working.

Although there are long-term benefits to volunteering, not everyone has the means to do it.

Students facing financial setbacks – on their own or within their families – could be prevented from volunteering due to debts, rent, a mortgage, etc. Those who don’t have a valid driver’s license or access to transportation may find it difficult to travel to an organization or special event.

With this in mind, what can be done for people wishing to pursue volunteer opportunities, but facing financial or personal challenges?

1. Don’t make it a long-term commitment. Volunteering doesn’t have to be treated as a job; instead, you set the parameters. If you’d like, you can assist a business once or twice a month with tasks related to your field of study, or provide one-off assistance at a special event or gala held on a weekend afternoon.

2. Get involved at your school. Chances are, your timetable allows for an hour or so of free time between classes, so use it to your advantage. Your college or university runs programs and initiatives recruiting student volunteers, so visit your Student Life (or respective outreach department) and ask how you can get involved. My post-secondary school ran an initiative requesting only an hour of a student’s weekly agenda. It also held events of which students acted as “leaders,” dedicating a few hours to planning, execution and evaluation.

This doesn’t require any excursions, and is based solely on your availability.

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3. Engage in micro-volunteering. Similar to working from home, micro-volunteering involves telecommuting to a charitable organization by applying on sites such as Skills For Change. You join a team of people also working from their homes, and perform tasks as if you were physically under an organization’s roof. This, too, is based on your commitments, and can be done in small increments of time.

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There’s a place for everyone out there, and by employing any of these three strategies, I hope you find a volunteer opportunity that matches your interests and builds your skill set.