A.M.'s Myth and Folklore Blog

Myth and Folklore ML-3043-996

Month: August 2019 (page 1 of 2)

Week 3 Feedback Strategies

This week, I read the feedback articles “Try Feedforward Instead of Feedback” by Marshall Goldsmith and “How to Give Bad Feedback Without Being a Jerk” by Adam Grant.

I like Goldsmith’s idea of feedforward, which essentially states that input should be focused on what improvements can be made for the future, rather than concentrating on the flaws of what has already happened. Generally, I completely agree with this idea, but I think it has two important caveats that go unmentioned in the article:

  1. Not all things are set in stone. Stories, documents, plans, and so on can be changed, and often their revision with external input is a critical part of their creation. Focusing too much on the future can rob you of a lot of improvement in what you’re working on now.
  2. All worthwhile “feedforward” will be based on the critics experience of the other person’s past work. It has to be based in what they have already seen of the other person’s work and attitudes. So, “feedforward” isn’t distinct from feedback in origin or content — it’s really just an issue of framing.
A more accurate expression of the idea of “feedforward,” if you ask me. (Image from the Feedback Cats class blog.)

I also liked Grant’s article. I dislike giving vapid, empty feedback but often find myself in a similar situation, unsure of how to present it in a way that doesn’t feel like an attack. I’m a strong believer that negative feedback — even when blunt, unpleasant, and even in bad faith — is critical and often positive in the long run: a lack of it prevents people from improving themselves and their skills and often leads to delusions (or just confusion) that are far more devastating when broken after a long time. Given that, I like Grant’s point that the most important thing about negative feedback isn’t softening it with meek platitudes: it’s explicitly clarifying that the point of the negative feedback is that you have faith in the other person’s ability to do better.

I’ve heard the lack of that called the “tyranny of low expectations,” and I don’t think there’s any better phrase. It might be comfortable now, but in the long run, it’s devastating.

(Of course, there is a balance: if people are scared to try, that is just as bad. Like everything, it’s all about equilibrium.)

Week 3 Reading Notes: Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Books 1-4, Part B

Reading Source: Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Books 1-4, Part B from the UnTextbook, translated by Tony Kline.

For these reading notes I chose the story of Narcissus and Echo.

Echo and Narcissus in a painting by John William Waterhouse. (Image from the UnTextbook.)
  • Tiresias, through an incident with the gods, is given the ability to foresee the future. He goes through the Aonian cities offering prophecies; in one, a child named Narcissus is born.
  • Narcissus’ parents come to Tiresias to ask whether their child would live a long, happy life. Tiresias, cryptically, responds: “If he does not discover himself.”
  • Narcissus grows up to be extraordinarily beautiful and is desired by all; his pride and self-involvement, however, lead him to spurn all suitors.
  • One day, the nymph Echo sees Narcissus and is instantly struck with love for the youth, but Echo had previously been cursed by Juno:
    • Echo has, in the past, delayed Juno with complicated conversations and long diversions, allowing Jupiter’s many nymph lovers to escape before Juno could catch them in the act.
    • As vengeance, Juno curses Echo: she may now only speak by repeating the last words said by another.
  • Echo comes across Narcissus in the woods one day and, by choosing to repeat only parts of his words, expresses her affection, but spurns her.
  • Even after Echo passes from the physical world, her spirit and voice remain.
  • Eventually, one of those rejected by Narcissus becomes vengeful, and Nemesis, goddess of revenge, engages to curse him.
  • Narcissus comes to a spring in the woods, and, upon seeing his own reflection, Nemesis curses him to fall in love with it, leaving him there to passionately pine for that which he can never have, reflected teasingly in the water.
  • Eventually, driven mad and stripped of all his former glory, Narcissus dies and, as a sign of pity, is transformed into the flower that bears his name.

Week 3 Reading Notes: Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Books 1-4, Part A

Reading Source: Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Books 1-4, Part A from the UnTextbook, translated by Tony Kline.

For these reading notes I chose part 6, “Callisto.”

  • Jupiter, while in the middle of some janitorial duties (repairing the walls of heaven and the surface of the Earth from a great fire), finds himself again smitten with a denizen of the Earth.
  • Callisto was a nymph and a companion of Diana, and is described as “not like other girls”: she has a clasp on her tunic and carries a spear and a bow. She was much in favor with Diana as well.
  • Callisto stops to rest in a grove in the woods and Jupiter sees an opportunity to strike; taking the form of Diana he comes and accosts Callisto.
  • Callisto greets the one she thinks is her mistress as “greater than Jupiter,” even though “he himself hears it.” Jupiter, entertained, only becomes further smitten, and violently rapes her in the woods.
    • There’s an interesting stylistic element in this telling where the narrator directly addresses a god while commenting on the story:
      “I wish you had seen her, Juno: you would have been kinder to her”
  • Diana and her attendants discover that Callisto is no longer a virgin when they stop to bathe in a sacred fountain and see that she is pregnant; Callisto is cast out from Diana’s retinue.
  • When Callisto bears a son by Jupiter, Arcas, Juno’s rage reaches a breaking point and she decides to take revenge on the nymph. Juno transforms her into a speechless bear and leaves her in the woods.
  • Many years later, Arcas, hunting in the woods, comes across his mother in the form of a bear. Though he can tell that something is wrong, he raises his spear to strike.
  • Jupiter, unwilling to allow such a painful end to their story, stays Arcas’ hand and took mother and son together into the heavens, forming the constellations of the Great and Little Bear.
The constellation of Ursa Major, or the Great Bear. (Image from Wikipedia by Till Credner.)

Project Topic Brainstorm

(I’m not so sure how I feel about these, but it’s a starting point.)

  • Greek Gods Workplace Drama: (This is a terrible, no good, way-too-cheesy idea, but…) I’m imagining something along the lines of the workplace mockumentary of The Office or Parks and Rec, but with the fraught relationships and responsibilities of the Greek (or Roman) pantheon. I have a fairly general sense of the Greco-Roman gods and their roles, so I wouldn’t be going into this blind.

    I’m not sure exactly how one writes in the style of Parks and Rec, but I do think it could be done. By offsetting character’s commentary typographically from the “action,” possibly in a two-column format, I think a similar effect could be achieved. It could even be styled as “comments” on the main text by the characters, though that starts to look more like social media than I’d like it to. (Has anyone else noticed that satisfying stories, even those written today, almost universally do not include cell phones, social media, or the social internet?)

    A seemingly helpful summary on their familiar relationships can be found here.
  • Origin Stories of the Moon/Constellations/Planets: A young, rather dogmatic, and recently educated physicist or engineer is hired by an astronomy lab (or telescope, imagine Arecibo). They make some pretentious comments/display a great deal of unjustified and dogmatic certainty, and a (possibly strange and quirky) senior scientist decides to tell a bunch of fantastic and mythic stories about the cosmos to disabuse the youngin’ of their hubris.

    Possible sources include (from the UnTextbook): The Folklore of Laos (origin of lightning), a Jataka tale about the disappearance of the moon, a Laos folktake on the origin of the moon, Filipino Popular Tales (why the sun is brighter than the moon), a Bengali folktale about Saturn, and so on.
The Arecibo Radio Telescope’s reflector dish. (Image from Wikipedia.)
  • Animals Tell Their Own Stories: In a similar vein, a field biologist, frustrated, idly wonders out loud to an animal where it came from. To their great surprise, the animal gets up and tells the story in perfect human speech (sourced from someone or other’s myths). Another option is that the biologist has a series of surreal dreams…

    Possible sources: Filipino Popular Tales (why the mosquito hums), etc.
  • Height: David, Goliath, and other Tall and Short Friends and Foes: I find something entertaining in the idea of various short and large mythical and traditional figures commiserating about the hardships of being 4’1″ or 9’2″. Possibly coming in pairs, if I could find enough pairings, otherwise just the contrast and some kind of frame story about who has it harder.

    Possible sources: the story of David and Goliath (see heading “David and the Giant”).

Week 2 Story: A Ghost, He Knows

On the first day, the voice was borne by a hot, heavy midday breeze with the sun beating overhead.

The young warrior, wary and remembering all the devils and demons and spirits of the world, heard the faint sound with trepidation. It was something between a human voice and an animal cry, yet there was nothing near but a silent owl and a skittish hare.

On the second dusk, the voice was borne by a cooling evening breeze, one that rustles leaves and shifts twigs and hastens the encroaching night.

An old woman, with a face like death and a step too light for one of flesh and bone, stepped into the campground.

“My son! My son!” she sobbed.

The warrior watched from the edge of his camp, silent and wary, as the old woman shuffled around his fire and rummaged through his belongings. She turned away, and the warrior shifted, too quiet for any living thing to hear. But the woman turned in an instant and looking straight at him through the trees.

Taking a rusted old knife from her belt, she sprung with a sudden agility, running towards him and brandishing the notched and ugly blade. He dodged nimbly to the side and she came to an abrupt stop, turning again to look at him.

A moment passed, and as suddenly as she came, the old woman fled into the woods barking a strange cry: “Yun! Yun! Yun! Yun!”

On the third night, the voice was borne by a cold and bitter wind, tendrils of song and glimpses of melody carried by the unending winds of the plain.

The warrior called out to the singer, walking to the edge of his camp in the direction from which the voice was coming.

Suddenly, from behind him, a voice — calm, deep, and strong — spoke as the singing cut off.

“May I have a meal?”

The form before the warrior had the shape of a man but the bulk of air; the voice of a chief but the blood of a stone. The warrior’s response was firm, he had none.

“Not so! You have wasna, I know. You have tobacco, I know. You have wild cherries, I know.”

The ghost sat down and took, without further speech, from the warriors pack and, after a moment, beckoned to the warrior to join him.

After finishing his meal, the ghost spoke.

“Ah! Now I will share with you a gift as you have shared with me your wasna, your tobacco, and your cherries. We will wrestle, and if you defeat me, you will become a great warrior, I know.”

The ghost launched himself at the warrior and pinned him to the ground, and they wrestled in the depth of the night and the glow of the fire; life against death, darkness against light, champions of one and the other.

On the fourth dawn, the sun rose, and with each beam of light the grip of the ghost weakened until the warrior found himself grasping at air, the ghost defeated and gone.

And it came to pass that the warrior become great and bested all of his future foes, for a ghost, he knows.

Author’s Note: I modified the time of the warriors encounter with the woman — which occurs at midnight in the original text — and added a third day at the beginning to emphasize the theme of encroaching darkness and the increasing danger that comes with it. Certainly that is a common and well-explored theme in folklore — being wary of darkness and night is a basic human survival trait — but I thought it might be interesting to emphasize even more.

According to the original text, wasna is a mixture of ground buffalo and meat fat. Wasna, I found, is also called pemmican. I was curious, and here’s a picture:

A ball of pemmican. (Image by Jen Arrr, from Wikipedia.)

I also altered the prophecy and the stake of the fight; it’s not a very faithful adaptation, but it seemed to make my version work better.

Bibliography: “The Indian Who Wrestled with a Ghost” in an anthology by Katharine Berry Judson (1913). Text from the class Myth-Folklore Anthology site.

Feedback Thoughts

I read the two articles “How to Get Past Negativity Bias in Order to Hardwire Positive Experiences” by Katrina Schwartz and “A fixed mindset could be holding you back — here’s how to change it” by Anna Kelsey-Sugg and Ann Arnold.

The first article describes the neurological and evolutionary background behind what many of us notice in ourselves (if we take the time to reflect): we fixate on the negative even when, objectively, it is completely overshadowed and outnumbered by the positive. It then discusses one scientists method for opposing this inbuilt “negativity bias.” I’ve certainly experienced this effect myself, but what I found particularly interesting was the last step of the method described: “link,” specifically linking a positive experience with a negative. This supposedly both helps mentally “root” the positive by using the negativity bias against itself, while also giving the positive the opportunity to overwhelm or counter the negative.

The second article discusses how mindsets — the same ones we’ve discussed before — affect how people receive feedback. It notes that those with a “fixed” mindset can be brittle in the face of negative feedback since it often directly contradicts or conflicts with their self-perception, while those with “flexible” or “growth” mindsets are more able to handle and incorporate feedback.

While I agree with the bulk of this thinking, I think it can also be risky when taken to the extreme: without getting into any nature-vs-nurture debate, it is unarguably true that at any moment various people have differing abilities and experience, and an overemphasis on “mistakes as learning opportunities” can also serve as a cover for sloppiness, which can be unforgivable in many contexts where serious stakes are on the line.

But, in the same line of thinking, the stakes in this class are completely non-existent: even if everyone hates your story (which they won’t) it doesn’t affect your life or anyone else’s in any serious way. (It doesn’t even affect your grade!) So, let’s take the lesson and not be afraid to “fail.”

(Image from the Feedback Cats class blog.)

Reading Notes: Week 2 Anthology

I chose to focus my reading notes this week on:

The Great Plains. (Image from Wikipedia.)

Story Source: “The Indian Who Wrestled with a Ghost” from Katharine Berry Judson’s book, sourced through the course Anthology.

  • In this story, a young Indian man is alone in the woods when he hears a mysterious voice.
  • A ghost comes to his camp site — “a woman of the olden days” — and investigates him, attempting to kill him.
  • When the man awakes, he finds a burial scaffold and a ghost there, who precedes to ask him for food.
  • The man refuses and the ghost attacks him, after prophesying what will happen if the man defeats him.
  • They fall to wrestling in the dust.
  • The fire weakens the ghost while the darkness weakens the warrior, but, just as the man is loosing to the ghost as the fire goes out, the sun comes up and the man wins the match.
  • The ghost disintegrates and the man is granted the results of the ghosts original proclamation.

Week 2 Reading Overview

These topics all look great — I can’t say that I have any particular interests that weren’t already covered. Really looking forward to the readings!


Choose from CLASSICAL and/or BIBLICAL units for Weeks 3 and 4.

Week 3: Ovid’s Metamorphoses 

Week 4: Jewish Fairy Tales

Choose from MIDDLE EASTERN and/or INDIAN units for Weeks 5 and 6.

Week 5: Persian

Week 6: Indian

Choose from ASIAN and/or AFRICAN units for Weeks 7 and 9. [Week 8 is review week.]

Week 7: China

Week 9: Laos

Choose from NATIVE AMERICAN units for Weeks 10 and 11.

Week 10: Great Plains

Week 11: Alaska

Choose from BRITISH and/or CELTIC units for Weeks 12 and 13.

Week 12: Beowulf

Week 13: Looking-Glass

Through the Looking Glass. (Image from the class blog.)

Choose from EUROPEAN units for Weeks 14 and 15.

Week 14: Italian

Week 15: Czech

Time Strategies

A lot of my commitments, like this class, are fairly flexible; there are weekly or biweekly deadlines (or meetings at the least), but the bulk of the responsibility for making sure that something happens between these spaced-out checkpoints falls firmly on my shoulders. This also tends to leave me with big empty spaces in my schedule that I have to be careful not to waste.

Still, I’ve never found firmly scheduling those times into chunks useful. I tend to just start with whatever I feel I will work the most productively on in that moment, pursue it until I hit some kind of minor roadblock (or get sick of it), and then move along to the next task. Rinse, repeat.

For me, the most important time strategy is just being ahead. I find that if I can stay one or two days ahead of everything, any last minute changes or additions to what I want to do become a non-issue — there’s always a day of buffer.

http://img2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20110123224607/disney/images/6/6c/Alice027.jpg
“I’m late!” (Image from the animated film “Alice in Wonderland,” sourced from the Disney Wiki.)

I read the articles “The Important Habit of Just Starting” by Jory Mackay and “Why Time Management is Ruining Our Lives” by Oliver Burkeman. Mackay’s discussion of the importance of “starting” resonates strongly with me: I have repeated found the most difficult part of any of my obligations to be the first moment; the moment where I convince myself to get going. After that, inertia kicks in.

Burkeman’s article also spoke to me, particularly where it points out the folly of believing that technology and superficial ease necessarily lead to leisure and prosperity. Often the surest way to ruin something is to focus on it, theorize about it, and bureaucratize it. Doing that with time management is no different, and I’m glad Burkeman took the time (I know, I know) to point that out.

Class Technology Tools

I’m choosing my technology tools (most of which I’ve used before) because I’m trying to stay away from Google services; hopefully this list will be helpful for anyone else in the class who wants to try some more technically involved and open-source tools:

  • WordPress (for the blog): WordPress is an open-source website CMS and blogging platform; OU offers hosting for free through OUCreate and Laura has great info on how to use that if you’re interested.
  • GIMP (the “open-source Photoshop”) for image editing. A very powerful tool and one worth learning for making many more things than just cat memes.
  • Jekyll (an open-source static site templating/creation/build system) for creating my storybook website. This requires some familiarity with HTML, CSS, and the command line, but is a great opportunity to play around with those technologies.

And finally, and most importantly,

  • Firefox (browser). Many people (myself included) used to avoid Firefox because it was slow and outdated. It was. But boy has it changed. Firefox Quantum was a complete makeover, and the browser is now fully competitive with ­— and often better than — Google’s Chrome. There’s no longer an excuse for giving Google control over your browser along with everything else.
  • DuckDuckGo (search engine, substitutes for Google and Google Images). They and others make the arguments for why in detail elsewhere; I won’t repeat them. But I do want to note just how good the DuckDuckGo results have become in recent years — I haven’t had to use Google in many months. (And they’ve got Dark Mode…)
A DuckDuckGo results page. (Original image.)
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