Response 1 – Open the Box (10.1)

By Kyle Stedman, Rockford University

Transcript of Video Response:

Hi, my name’s Kyle Stedman–that’s me–and I just finished uh, I almost said “reading,” but “experiencing” Nikki Gordon’s “Open the Box,” and I have a lot of things it’s made me think about and a lot of things that’s made me
feel. Some of the things it made me think about are–it reminded me of “choose your own adventure” books–you know how they’re always written in the second person with that “you.” This is an example of one that I tried to write with some friends on a Google Site years ago. And it always starts the same way, right? “YOU’RE sitting in the front seat,” so the person experiencing the text is really the person who’s part of the story.

That’s of course something that that Gordon does really well. It reminds me of how a lot of creative nonfiction authors do that too! This is one of my favorites by Brenda Miller and she starts kind of in the same way: “You’re in the bed of a stranger.” Now we know that the story is actually about her, right? We know that really this is a part of of Miller’s life when she was in the bed of a stranger. But instead for complicated reasons that we can kind of tease out or just kind of let be mysterious, she writes the whole thing to you instead.

Another thing that made me think about is how in some ways clicking through the tap essay of a PowerPoint is a little bit like a game. And–
sorry to keep making this about me–it reminded me of this piece that I
co-wrote with Wendi–Hey Wendi!!– a few years ago about gamification, this idea of taking something that doesn’t necessarily have to be game-like and changing the experience and the immersiveness of it by making it a game. And I know “Open the Box” isn’t necessarily a game but in some ways it felt game-like.

A third thing besides choose your own adventure and gamification
that this made me think about was, again more about me, I’m really sorry.
It’s about this collection called Obsessed. This isn’t out yet, but um I submitted this essay called “Drenched in 1988” to that collection and
hey, they said they’d publish it, it’s really cool. And I was thinking about my own experience of writing at first just about my silly experiment of um, digging deep into all things 1988. Long story. And you know, it starts with John Cusack and Tim Robbins and silly things like that, but as I was writing this essay, how it became more serious, more serious for me. It became about me being a childless person – someone who doesn’t have kids and will never have kids. And it started becoming about about how my my younger brother died.

Now this seems so silly right? Like I thought this was about about you know Tim Robbins and John Cusack and silly things like that, and it was making me think– again, Gordon’s “Open the Box” piece made me think about how
sometimes the things that we think are less serious in our lives actually are
tied to our emotions and our feelings in complex human ways that we don’t even quite understand. So I loved that since this is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, I felt like Gordon helped me think about that too.
It’s complicated, right, when we want to write about ourselves, what do we
write about? How do we how do we share how our lives have touched other people’s? In Gordon’s piece she she actually uh blurs out the faces of the person that she’s talking about.

It made me think about a book that I’ve read and taught from called
Family Trouble about the hazards and rewards of revealing family when we’re writing, uh essays or creative nonfiction or experiences, that really share who we are for others. Now I know it seems like I’m kind of allover the place–I am. These are all the things that I thought about. And yet
when it comes to the experience of actually getting into “Open the Box” and
actually opening the box there’s something more than just thinking. Because to get forward I had to click, or push forward or space on my keyboard. I could read a line that at first kind of seemed innocuous, yeah, and then I hit it and got to that black screen again, and then I got to the the next lines
that sometimes weren’t quite as innocuous– sometimes we’re a little um I think “scary” is the right word. And all of a sudden even though Gordon is telling her story, suddenly it felt like I was in some way wrapped into the story.

As I would hit a line that I started realizing how dark this was starting to get and I would click forward and have this black screen and I would have to choose again to click forward to have even the next words come forward even when they were hard. And then I’d click forward again and there was another black screen. And I would have to choose again to go forward.
Again: black screen. Again: choose to go forward. So for me that feeling of of “What am I in? What is going to happen here? What, what will happen as I continue to click forward and find out what is inside some of the boxes that show up? Start to figure out where the ‘you’ of the story actually is?”
And that experience um didn’t just make me think about all those things I told you about, it actually made me feel the way I remember feeling when I used to play the Myst version, uh, the Myst series of video games.

Now you might be like, “Myst, what’s going on here?” Myst were games that started in 1993 there were a whole bunch of sequels, I’ve played all of them,
I get kind of obsessed with these. Let me just show you for a second what,
what the Myst games could look like. If I, if I load a game here, [ambient game/wind sounds] um start by by entering the book– this is a little bit “Open the Box”-y, right? Like I have to choose, am I going to go inside this book or not? [loud whoosh sound played twice] Sorry for the 1993 graphics and sound. [ocean noises continue] Um, and the way that Myst works is you
click where you want to click–you know, sometimes you back up,
sometimes you move around, you can walk out onto the island, you decide, “Do I want to go this way or do I want to look a little closer at that?”

And of course as you walk even though this isn’t a game where things are going to attack you, even though this isn’t a game where anything’s going to jump out–you can see it’s very 1993, it doesn’t look scary–and yet when I
remember playing this in early high school, and I remember moments like this where i would click something [loud, ominous sound of door opening] and I have to decide, am I going in there or not? Now I know eventually I’m going to, but I also have to decide, am I going in there now? If I click in and I see unknown scary things in front of me, and maybe even the music gets a little dramatic [music gets dramatic, timpani and strings in a minor key] I remember these feelings . . .of not knowing what I was getting myself into, this feeling of, “Okay I should probably push this button,” but the game gives me no certainties about it; the game gives me no feeling of, yes everything’s gonna be okay when if I click that button! This button could [laughing] ruin everything around me! This button could make the entire room I’m in um fall down. And that emotion was brought to the fore as I experienced “Open the Box.” Now who knows what that means, who knows what I’m supposed to do with that, who knows what I can do with that. I don’t even have any conclusions to draw.

All I know is that my thoughts and my feelings were were brought to the fore as I experienced this, and there’s something powerful there about–if i just go back here, um yeah yeah–something about how choose your own adventure, second person, how gamification and how really sharing the personal things in our life can join together for an experience that is unlike any other. So thanks, Nikki Gordon, I appreciated “Open the Box.” I feel really honored to have shared what you shared.

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