Critical Thinking and Immigration Policy

While my research centers on writing a transmedia story, the processes of it and how and why it works, there is also a social component to it. I deliberately chose to have my story be about the journey of a refugee girl escaping from war at home and trying to find a safe place to live. There are two main reasons for this: the first has to do with my experience as a Mexican-American growing up on the border of Texas and Mexico, and the second has to do with the appalling use of “boat people” as a political football by the government and the opposition here in Australia.

Earlier this month, the Washington Post published an article about Jason Richwine, who co-authored a study commissioned by The Heritage Foundation indicating that immigration reform could cost the US trillions of dollars. The article in question, however, was written to put the study “in context,” as author Dylan Matthews wrote, by pointing out Richwine’s 2009 public policy doctoral dissertation titled “IQ and Immigration Policy.”

Richwine’s abstract is clear:

The statistical construct known as IQ can reliably estimate general mental ability, or intelligence. The average IQ of immigrants in the United States is substantially lower than that of the white native population, and the difference is likely to persist over several generations. The consequences are a lack of socioeconomic assimilation among low-IQ immigrant groups, more underclass behavior, less social trust, and an increase in the proportion of unskilled workers in the American labor market. Selecting high-IQ immigrants would ameliorate these problems in the U.S., while at the same time benefiting smart potential immigrants who lack educational access in their home countries.

What’s not clear in the abstract arises later in the dissertation. Richwine asserts “the totality of the evidence suggests a genetic component to group differences in IQ.”

Speaking as the daughter of a legal Hispanic immigrant to the US, and as a person who’s currently pursuing a doctorate, I have a very vested interest in this argument. But this dissertation is actually a very big opportunity for me on a lot of fronts.

  1. It’s relevant to my research. I suspect that there are some unpleasant couched assumptions in this dissertation regarding who and what immigrants are. However, I can’t say as much until I read it. And because it’s about immigration policy, and immigration is a component of the story I’m trying to tell, it makes sense for me to read this work.
  2. It’s an exercise in critical thinking. Obviously I’m having some serious negative reactions to the notion that Hispanic immigrants have lower IQs as a matter of course, and will continue to have lower IQs, and should therefore be locked out of the US under an implemented IQ entrance exam, but it’s important to approach this thesis as rationally as possible and apply critical thought. I (and my husband, who’s also deeply appalled by this dissertation) have already found potential problems in research and data analysis just from the title, abstract, and ToC alone. The only way to see if these problems actually exist is to read the dissertation with a critical eye that isn’t unbiased, because I can’t just pretend they’re not there, but that acknowledges my existing biases and transparently takes them into account, particularly when I report my findings.
  3. It’s good practice for my framing document. I won’t be writing a traditional doctoral thesis, but the exegetical or framing document I’m writing will have some fundamental structural similarities with many PhD dissertations. Just because I may personally disagree with the content, or find it distasteful, doesn’t mean there aren’t other areas that I might benefit from analyzing. This particular dissertation was accepted by the Kennedy School of Government, which is a part of Harvard University. That’s got to mean something.

So, there you go. I’ve linked to both the original Washington Post article and to the thesis itself above, but if you’re interested in reading a little further, the Boston Globe reports that public policy students at Harvard have submitted a petition to the university to get studies that link cognitive ability and race barred from research at the school. Also, Slate has a longer investigation on Richwine himself here.

I can’t say when I’ll be able to report my results, because I have a lot of other things I’m working on, but I do want to get this out before, say, August. We’ll see what happens.


I’ve never really been able to do treatments. For stories, I can outline them all right; but for a treatment of a piece that’s meant to be a script, whether it’s radio or film of stage, I get carried away hearing people talk to each other. I get lost in writing the dialogue.

So it’s not a treatment, it’s a rough draft of a scene. Which I suppose is all right. I mean, this whole thing is about figuring why things work, and how they work. By force it’ll just be my personal experience, because I can’t get in anyone else’s head about these things.

So, in my head: treatments are hard. I feel stifled trying to keep everything to prose when I know the things I’m writing about are going to get done as dialogue. And I understand why a treatment can be useful; it gives a summary of events over a given piece, whether it’s a scene or an act or a whole work, and it may provide insights that you can’t really absorb while you’re all caught up in hearing people argue and anguish against each other.

I can’t help but still think, though, that a treatment — a solid thing, like the treatment for Terminator — is the foundation I need to get the platform-delivered portions of the story done. The treatment has all the answers. It’s the master document.

But that’s not how I write, and I think that’s the case for many writers. There’s a lot of mystery and discovery that happens in the moment. There’s a lot of deliberate mystery left, holes, vague foggy places that could be anything. For instance, I don’t really know what’s happened to Neyu’s family. Except Samsithi, and I only know a certain specific thing. And I’m fine with that. I need that undescribed arsenal ready for me to deploy with whatever attributes are needed at the time.

But it doesn’t make for a friggin’ treatment. Or maybe it does. I’m likely overthinking the matter. As usual.

State of the state

Finding a voice sucks. Blog writing is hard. I imagine this is the case for a lot of people, but I end up trashing most of my posts in a fit of “who really cares what I have to say?”

If this blog is a kind of signposting of my experience, then I’ve forgotten to take pictures of the whole first half of the trip. To be fair, it’s mostly the same — a lot of worldbuilding on the wiki, and then refining and tuning the storyline. I have some broad strokes written out already, and depending on what platforms end up getting chosen for the second half — production — I think we’ll only be able to do maybe an episode a month, including all materials. And by episode I’m not yet sure if I mean primarily an animatic, or primarily a radio-play style podcast.

There’s a conference in October I’m aiming for. I’ve got an idea that was spurred by a friend of mine (hi, Irene!); she asked a very salient question about how polyphonic composition operates in a narrative in which the audience is a direct participant: in other words, a first-person RPG. The resulting thought process is the abstract I’ll be submitting. It’s due on the 20th, so once that’s done and it doesn’t violate any publication rules (I’m still pretty new to all these things) I’ll post the thoughts I’ve had on that topic.

If anyone’s interested, it’s Rethinking Intermediality in the Digital Age, in Cluj-Napoca. I had to look that up. Turns out it’s in Transylvania. Honest. Too cool.

In personal news, I just turned 37 last week. I’ve been thinking it was 38. Got to see They Might Be Giants, which is a huge achievement. I lived in New York for 14 years, and every time I tried to see them something happened to keep me from going. Now, on the other side of the world, I’ve finally seen them in concert. They played the whole of Flood, from back to front. Outstanding.

By the end of May I’m looking to have detailed treatments of the first five chapters done. Already the first chapter has blown out a bit; I originally had only the main character and the captain of the ship she stows away on as primary operators in the story. Except that might not be polyphonic (I think there can be arguments made for a polar story; Crime and Punishment might qualify, but I haven’t read it since high school), so now I’m thinking about the crew and how they interrelate with each other, and how their dynamics change with the arrival of the main character.

Story structure: linear vs spatial

I’m not the kind of person who usually outlines or plans. I start with an opening idea or scene and just run with it. This is fine if your deadlines are loose and the process is meant to be exploratory. No harm, no foul, in poking into a dead-end idea; just back up to a previous save and try a new path.

This isn’t so tenable when you’re working to a deadline. When I’ve done work for hire, I’ve used an outline; sometimes those outlines were provided to me by an editor, and sometimes it was up to me to build the structure. There’s a sense of safety in having an outline. But if your deadline’s close, then veering from the laid out plan can carry some very big problems.

I’ve never written transmedia before. It’s a new mode of thinking for me. Because I’m using Bakhtin‘s concept of polyphony as a lens for analysing and building a transmedia story, I have some conceptual frameworks to build upon, but aside from that, I’m doing as Bradbury says and building my wings on the way down.

This time, I’ve decided to start with a treatment. I read a few film treatments just to get a sense of how one might feel; it’s a nice way of getting a general picture of how a story might go. Note that I’m not fussing about mechanics right now — nothing about platforms, nothing about plot. I’m just trying to lay the story out from start to finish.

And it’s not working out like I thought. While I don’t want to dwell on mechanical things, I do have to bear in mind that this will be a transmedia story. Threads to follow everywhere. This is a boon and a curse. I feel a little more free to digress into worldbuilding when I hit a point where I need a planet name or a nation or a cultural more, but it’s far too easy to slip down those rabbit holes and two hours later I have a fleshed-out people but not much in terms of a treatment.

Which brings me back to outlining. Outlines are linear, and go from less granular to more granular. This project is calling for something similar, but spatial instead. A central point, with main branches (story, world, character) that go into increasing granularity. I’ve been working with a mind-mapping tool called XMind; once I get one in a state that doesn’t feel too half-baked, I’ll take a screen-shot and post. That spatial visual image is extraordinarily useful.

And this is not at all to disparage linear outlining. I’m finding this useful in the more granular areas of story development, and to some extent, worldbuilding (astrography, geography, and governance in particular). Letting these linearities spread out, spoke-like, from a central idea, however, is freeing and visually and thematically mimics the tension invoked by Bakhtin’s polyphony. The story isn’t told in the tale of a single person’s experience; the story lies in the space between different people, or characters, each of whom represents a particular ideological standpoint. So far, this has informed my story planning by forcing me to go spatial.

I’m wondering if, as time goes on and the components of the story become more solid and defined, if among these spokes will arise concentric circles of connection — a map of Canberra, or a traditional spider web. A bicycle wheel has the strength to not buckle because of the constant and even pressure exerted by its spokes between the center and the rim; maybe this bicycle wheel image is one to keep in mind as I progress.

There’s another analogy about tightening opposite bolts when replacing a tire, but I’ll leave that one for another time.

That’s a seriously big screen.

Man, a blank wiki is daunting. It’s worse than a single blank page, it’s a million blank pages. They’re not serial, or linear. They’re just one big connected open space of emptiness.

There’s a reason I’m keeping the locks down on it for now. For starters, it’s hideously empty. The only way to change that will be through work. Which is fine. The other reason is that I want to have the space to just blather and throw stuff around. Some things will stick, and some things, in retrospect, will look like I must have been waking from a very strange dream involving eulogized lemons for me to have those ideas.

I do like the interconnectedness and immediacy of a wiki, though. Have a new idea? Make a link, fill that out when you’re done with this page. Everything all scattered around? Add category tags. Sorted. Changes get tracked, comparisons are easy as anything to make. And you’re already online to do distracting things more research.

Working on a wiki feels intuitive. The reason for this is that I’ve been conworlding for a long time — maybe even ten years or so now. I’ve done it longer, really, but it was only eight or ten years ago that I learned what the term was, and what it applied to.

The projects I was a part of all used a wiki as a way to provide diegetic information on the world, the countries, the people and the culture. Straightforward and brilliant. So I’m totally cribbing off someone else for this.

If, in the course of the work that happens, part of my wiki takes on that kind of polish, I might make them available for public viewing. Not sure how I’d do that — maybe post excerpts, because access to wiki pages is an all-or-nothing deal — but I think it’d be interesting to throw that part of the work into the spotlight.

Now, back to working on a reading list and schedule. There’s a lot of work to get done.

A more nuanced welcome.

Now that I’ve had a bit more time to sort things out here, I want to explain a few things.

This is, primarily, a professional site. It contains professional thoughts on professional things. But it is also my personal site, too. It will contain personal things that I am happy to have associated with my professional life. This means that there may be politics involved, sometimes. I promise to be respectful and rational in the commentary that I post.

This site is also a research site. Behind the scenes I’m working on practice-based research into the nature of transmedia. How does it work? Why does it work? What does it mean to write for multiple platforms to get a single story across? What are these platforms?

Which may lead you to the question of just who the heck am I? (Me as in me the writer, not you asking yourselves this question.)

I tell stories. Often not for a living — life just hasn’t worked out that way. But over the past fifteen years I’ve contributed to tabletop RPG supplements, helped publish a different tabletop RPG rulebook, published a few short stories online and in print, worked on webcomics, had a brief weekly web prose fiction serial, been a red pen for hire at a variety of publishing houses, and run and play tabletop RPG games. And I’ve also had plays produced off-off Broadway, in New York.

In other words, I represent the new kind of worker, the one who grew up just as the vaunted “work for 50 years for one company and get the gold watch at the end” era was truly buried and mourned. I’ve done day jobs at law firms and community centers, on tour boats and in newspaper bullpens. Thematically sort of related, but certainly not the kind of linear connectivity expected on old school resumes.

And in that sense, this current pursuit — a better understanding of transmedia — is a direct reflection of my life so far. Attention spans and work histories are fragmented now, illuminated by the sheen of jump cuts and readily available technology. This is the greatest era of human innovation since the Industrial Revolution. The old ways don’t work the way they used to. This does not mean they’re broken — on the contrary, there’s a lot we can gain from them. What really needs to happen, though, is a re-frame. A change of perpsective and interpretation.

Growing up on the south coast of Texas, I watched the few pines snap in the yearly tropical storms and hurricanes. The palm trees swayed and strained, but mostly held their ground. Same principle.



This is my new, full, Storytrade site. It’ll be serving two purposes: one, as a headquarters for thoughts and ruminations on all kinds of things, professional and not. And two, as the home base for the research that I’m doing in working toward my DCI (Doctorate of Creative Industries). So, uh, come on in, take a look, there’s not much here at the moment, but it’ll be filling out pretty soon.