A Finale: When Everything Comes Together

It has definitely been a curious first year of university here at UBC for myself, and I’m sure for many around me as well. Having participated in the Global Citizens CAP (Coordinated Arts Program) has been a rewarding experience and I am entirely grateful for all of the teamwork and effort made by all of my professors in this program. They have done an especially great job at creating connections between each course which works to create a larger picture that has been accumulating throughout the year, even into this final week of school.

Now, yesterday April first, we had CAPCON, where many students from our program came together to share a variety of their work that has been from throughout the year. Listening to several of these presentations proved to be quite a rewarding experience, as it is always an encouraging environment to see what our fellow peers have taken from their courses, and what they feel should be shared and discussed. One presentation was titled, “The Body that is Not Yours,” and it was presented by Ina de Weerdt, Peijia Ding, and Nico Jiminez. The three reflected on C.W. Mills’ “The Sociological Imagination,” which is a theory that essentially explains how the individual is connected to society, and specifically how the issues of an individual are not often a product of themselves, but instead due to issues regarding the greater societal context. The three covered several issues that pertained to this. Nico talked about his many masks that he displays, student, son, etc, and this had me thinking in the context of narratives as my ASTU class has been focusing on all year. There is a connection here because Nico’s own narrative is largely effected by society, just as all our own narratives are not a personal venture, but one shaped and prodded by our own experiences and surroundings that we are socialized to. This also correlates to what Ina and Peijia talked about. Ina also talked about the sociological imagination and how it effects the greater masses in what is expected of body image, and also dealing with bigger issues. Capitalist and media representations are very involved in what we as people think of ourselves to the point that our own narrative is molded. Ina also noted that positive changes are being made that represents all body types and promotes diversity, and in these changes too comes variations in personal stories. Ina also talked about masculinity and the “ideal” man that has been formed by society. She gave us the statistic that because of these expectations, men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women. So I think about these men who have been pushed by society to do this, and that connection to their personal narrative and how it has come to this out of the greater picture, just as the sociological imagination figures. Finally, Peijia talked about fat shaming, and how people’s weight is effected also by society and not just themselves in relation to class, race and gender. This too correlates to the sociological imagination and the individual’s personal witnessing to the environment.

Essentially, this presentation brought up these issues around gender stereotyping, fat shaming, and over all self image, but it also made me think back to all of the memoirs that we have read throughout the year in ASTU and how those who wrote them related their own testimonies to the different issues that they faced and the links that happened in their own contexts. Where I had understood the memoir as a separate idea, and the sociological imagination as a separate idea, they now come together in my mind in a different way than before which is a super valuable perspective to have gained from CAPCON, and the past year.

So here it is nearly the end of this journey, and let me be super cliché here, and say that it is also just the beginning.

Thanks for the read,

Tima J


Vietnamerica: A Family’s Journey; Another look at graphic novel’s as autobiography

Vietnamerica by author G.B. Tran, is a personal narrative in the form of a graphic novel that follows Tran, a second generation American from Vietnam, as he decides to delve into the history of Vietnam after he visits the country for the first time to attend his grandparents funeral, and realizes how little he knows about his family’s history. Throughout the text Tran goes back three generations to outline the conflict and war that has ravaged Vietnam, and Tran seeks to communicate what he learns about his families past, and moreover the events that led his parents to seek refugee status and immigrate to America. He coveys this history through fragmented non-linear events from different perspectives of his relatives.

Image retrieved from here


Image Retrieved from here

[Image from the book, 'Vietnamerica' by Gia-Bao Tran. Published by Villard Books] *** []

Imaged retrieved from here

From these images you can see that impeccable imagery and detail were used to create this novel and it covers a wide range of historical content in which is intended at an older audience due to the violence and specific traumatic events faced by Tran’s family.

Caroline Kyungah Hong writes much about the use of graphic imagery by Asian Americans in, “Disorienting the Vietnam War: GB Tran’s Vietnamerica as Transnational and Transhistorical Graphic Memoir.” Hong exclaims the effectiveness of using graphic imagery for educational purposes and the way that they can convey verbal and non-verbal representations of political and historical events. She also commemorates Tran’s contemporary use of medium in abolishing stigma as it translates, through images, true events and brings up an idea of “realism,” as seeing images of the events can facilitate a reader’s connection the the actuality of the story. She also thoroughly describes his use of detail and colouring, in which are very effective in differentiating time frames and perspectives, as the book is spread over various different times. If you would like a more detailed synopsis of “Vietnamerican,” as well as an astute analyses,  I recommend taking a look at Hong’s article linked above.

Despite all of the praises of G.B. Tran’s novel, it has even won an Eisner Award (like comic version of an Oscar), I wanted to change my focus here, and look more into the use of comics as a narrative and how as a medium it can also be, conceivably, ineffective as autobiography.  I’ve focused on “Vietnamerica,” because despite all of it’s prestige, I also found in many reviews (found here and here), that the fragmented memoir is very hard to follow due to the ever changing imagery that is outlines all of Vietnam’s geopolitical shifts. Although I have not personally attempted this read as of yet, through these reviews I can think about the weaknesses in comic memoirs. Although they are great for orchestrating voices and histories, specifically of those in historical Trauma (e.g Maus, Persepolis, etc.), perhaps a downfall may be the busyness of graphic novels. By this I mean that the manner in which “Vietnamerican” is done, which is with an extraordinary amount of detail; and that detail combined with so much information can be too “busy,” and in turn create a sensory overload and distract a reader that is trying to follow the history.

Stop me if I’m reaching too far here, however this is my impression from many of the reviews.

One other point that has faced Tran’s novel, is the validity of his work. A review in The New York Times, talks about Tran’s accounts being channeled through himself from others, and onto the page as a “reminicence” – but the point is that these are not his own, and that it is this that begs the question; How viable is his work? This question is out there because he can’t convey narratives as he could with his own memories, nor can he properly convey the imagery of events that he did not witness. These claims all being made by reviewer, David L. Ulin, as I still don’t believe that I have enough knowledge of this book to coherently form objective opinions on the matter.

I would also just like to mention that despite these reviews and accusations, I am sure that “Vietnamerica” does hold up to it’s good reputation, and from what I have discovered thus far, it seems like a fantastic read. 🙂

So there you have it, I delved somewhat into some ideas around Tran’s book and it’s effectivness/work as a graphic medium. I know that I personally still have many questions, and hopefully I can at some point have to opportunity to read this narrative myself and properly understand it for it’s works and it’s contents.

Thanks for reading,

Tima J.




Ethics and Representation in “Based on a Real Story.”

We’ve all seen movies circling around the Hollywood-sphere that are based on true stories, and or historical events, these range from The Theory of Everything, to Schindler’s List. In a previous blog from last term, my ASTU class talked about representation and what is chosen to be represented and why, so now I would like to bring light to the ethics and representation of the content of these films that find themselves up on the big screen. I want to talk about a quick article titled, “Hollywood Ethics: Should Movies Be Changed Based on Current Events?” This article exclaims the omission of facts or events in movies based off of a true story due to sensitivity of said event. I find that within this there can be much debate. For example, the forfeiting of a historical scene in order to pay respect to the mourning of it is seen as an ethical decision, however considering that it in place then makes for an unjust representation of the actual events?

To get a more specific scope on the alteration of films I found this report: “Honest Truths: Documentary Filmmakers on Ethical Challenges in Their Work.” In this text, many Filmmakers come forth on ways that they manipulated their shots in order to get the content that they wanted. They break it up into two categories, of the subjects and the viewers. Finally, it appears that it comes down to what the viewers want and people are willing to create false scenarios for the entertainment factor over the truth. This specifically coming from documentary filmmakers, I think that it can link to those films that are covering historical events or true stories, as we see many discrepancies between the truth and these films. There is a line that filmmakers are willing to cross in the portrayal of events because they want a better reaction from the viewer. At what point does this take away from important issues and become focused in on the emotional and material aspect of film content? I also think that people are starting to ask these questions and that film may be inching towards accurate depiction as these morals and ethics are coming to light. For a popular example, Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest film, “The Revenant,” is bringing about a lot of discussion of the portrayal of indigenous peoples, and the actor himself is making sure that they are acknowledged and clearly represented. There is much more to be discussed on this matter, and many more questions that arise, and I just wanted to put it out there for now. What do you think?

Thanks for the read,

Tima J


Archives and the Importance of Preserving Identity

This past Tuesday, my ASTU 100 class participated in a showcase for archival research. One of the biggest takeaways from this research that my classmates and I have done in the past couple of weeks, is how much information one can find within the archives(and I believe that this is a much shared opinion among all of us). The histories and narratives are immense, detailed, and very well preserved, and I have been blown away by the ability of those who work and have worked in the Rare Books and Special Collection archives here at UBC.

An idea of archives that is striking a big chord in my head recently is an archival collection’s ability to really portray the identity of individuals. For an example, two groups in my class presented their findings on Jack Shadbolt,  a well renowned artist who made a huge contribution to art in all the places that he resided in and visited over his lifetime (between England, British Columbia, France, and New York, to name a few). His fond contains, as I understand, a collection of various journals, sketchbooks, and other keepsakes that he accumulated over his lifetime. I find that these items, although they may not be his best, most popular, or proudest of creations, are of utmost importance as they give us a view into the fundamentals of his artistry – that being his inspirations, thought processes, and characteristics. I believe that these documents shape his identity more than any of his vastly distributed masterpieces could. It is in Shadbolt’s collection that I value archives as a facet into the real lives,(apposed to their more material fame) of any renowned personages that would otherwise be discarded or forgotten if their was no organized collection made.

Elizabeth Kaplan’s, “We Are What We Collect, We Collect What We Are,” is a very thorough source with many in depth observations to the role of Archives in this idea representing identity, and even further explores the debates around identity, down to the politics of identity. I recommend that you take a look!






Life Narratives Personified

I recently came across a web article titled, “Life’s Stories.” This article briefly dives into the simple idea of just viewing a life as a linear story and elaborates on how a story isn’t simply what’s is written down, it is the manner in which it is written, structured, and why certain aspects of the text are more significant than others. Julie Beck, the author of this article, mentions that an individuals life is filled with multitudes of narratives. These narratives can be categorized to the individual between age frames, split by significant events, or simply representing different aspect of life, being work, school, home, etc. She breaks it up between forming narratives that are scattered or mixed up in childhood and how to the system of creating really picks up in a child as cognitive systems develop more, and she also delves into so many other ideas – it’s a long article!

So I wanted to zero in onto one brief comment she makes, and here is the idea: in everyday life we communicate with multiple people and especially while getting to know people, you commonly tell the same stories, or same narratives, if you will. Beck calls this repetition a “rehearsal.” She’s getting at the idea that every time to tell a story about yourself you are rehearsing it in your mind, solidifying the events to make them stronger in your mind, and creating another tie to how you are representing yourself to the listener. Now, in our ASTU class we’ve been talking a lot about validity of circulating life narratives and the alteration of stories for selected audiences, particularly about published work. I want to relate that discussion topic to this idea of rehearsing because Beck reflects that as you rehearse your own life narrative time and time again, it is common that the story, or memory, or whatnot will change depending on who you are talking to. This can be because you know how people have reacted to it in the past and will therefore alter the way that you tell it, or even that the conversation that proceeded that story may encourage you to have a new outlook and tell it according to that. I find this interesting that this is extremely accurate. I can personally think of times where I’ve listened to a friend’s story and then again later around others it had changed, and I’ sure that I have done the same, even subconsciously. But I’ve never considered this as  way to look at narratives. In our discussions, I always regarded it as if it’s outside sources that tweak a narrative, and that this is beyond the original source. For an example, I think about the telephone game where you whisper something in someone’s ear and they pass the message along to others. In this game, the message is commonly different from where it started. in what I will call the “rehearsal theory,” it is an internal modification of a story. to make a relating example of it, it’s as if you whisper something to yourself over and over until it changes to not only represent what you think the listener wants to hear, but also to represent new reflection that you’ve had about it. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, but I would definitely like to take more time to think about this and notice patterns as I share with people my versions of my own narratives and listen to other peoples narratives.


Post Secret – Minuscule Fragments of Life Narratives

Today I would like to discuss a very interesting form of life narratives brought out from Post Secret, created by a man named Frank Warren. The main idea behind Post Secret, is that people create a post card with a secret about themselves and anonymously mail it to Germantown, Maryland. From there, a couple dozen post cards are picked on a weekly basis to be featured on the post secret website linked at the beginning of this post. There are also several books full of these everyday secrets.

It may be difficult to see these secrets as life narratives as each contain very limited words and often a stirring message that leaves no explanation, but these are indeed little glimpses into identities of unknown people. They range from confessing love (or lack thereof), observations, and a smorgasbord of other themes. These few words paint a story that leaves much of to the imagination of the viewer, and many of these secrets have invoked plenty of commentary.

I want to take a moment to discuss the relevance behind this ongoing project. For the people who write these intimate narratives, a healing process can begin as it is a means to express themselves and this can release the negative energy from holding that secret to themselves. It can also benefit the viewers as there are many who could relate to the topics at hand which allows them to understand that they aren’t alone and feel a bond with the faceless artifacts. Also, many of Frank’s weekly posts are themed to an issue or event going on such as the suicide prevention week, substance abuse awareness, or other themes. This allows a lot of discussion for those who have relative stories and just feel like talking about it and getting support from commenting on the posts.

However, there has also been a lot of controversy on the anonymity of the posts as some have entailed very dark confessions that have blown up into big issues. In these cases though, there is not much that can be done because the messages cannot be traced back to the sender and therefore Frank has been involved with lots of criticism and is forced in some cases to assess these and hold them back from the general public.

So there you have it, a little sneak peak into the world of Post Secret. I highly encourage you to check in at the site every so often and think about the micro life narratives presented.

If you like, think a little about these questions:

To what extent do these secrets represent the people who shared them?

Do you think that this has a deeper meaning and purpose than simply telling secrets? What else can come of the experience?

Thanks for reading! Happy days everyone,

Tima J



My Field Mission into the Land of Words on Paper

As I walked through the Indigo Chapters bookstore on Broadway and Granville, I immediately found a display on a table filled with life narrative novels as if they were waiting for me to look at them for the purpose of this post. Now as I glazed over the collection furiously writing themes and names on a piece of paper, it hit me. Only after moments of looking I was done, but I wasn’t really. In my pursuit I had only noted down select books in what seemed like a random order. I asked myself, “What made me choose to write down some of these books, and overlook the others?” I include this story because it allowed me to answer this question: What makes these so special? There are a couple reasons. For example, several books that I was most drawn to were those that had a portrait of a face. These images stir up emotion, and perhaps captivate me with an intimacy involved with the face to face-like interaction. The facial expression also plays a large part in this first look moment, whether they are content, or somber, it leaves an unknown entity that sparks curiosity. Also, two of these Narratives featured Justin Trudeau’s face front and center, and another Stephen Harper. These books being put out and advertised now is an absolute key marketing strategy with this upcoming election. If I had seen them another time out of the present context, they wouldn’t have caught my attention as they had now.

Other covers that I was drawn to had either striking images such as men in combat uniforms or others had artsy or animated imaginative covers that feature colourful patterns or bright words.

The book that I will now focus on is called, “That Lonely Section of Hell,” written by Lori Shenher. This narrative doesn’t particularly match the criteria that I described above for catching my attention as it doesn’t necessarily have captivating imagery, but the words popped out at me immediately. So the reason that I’ve chosen to elaborate on this book is because the title left me wanting to investigate further. Around the title it also says, “The botched investigation of a serial killer who almost got away.” How could I not be intrigued? As I opened the cover and read the back to realize that this is a local story of women going missing here in Vancouver, I found myself wanting more and more information. To see Vancouver in the eyes of an ex-detective sounds pretty great to me. This is also so interesting to me as it’s a local view into a little history of my newest home. So the entire idea of this narrative, the great ratings it’s received, and the quotes of praise found on the back of the cover, have me looking no further for my next read. I feel that many people here in Vancouver could also find themselves in my position as they come across this story.

Thanks for reading,

Tima Johnson


Allow me to introduce myself

My proper name is Tamara Johnson. For those who have previously met me thus far will know me as Tima. This is the Arabic shortening for my full name and I believe is more suitable to who I am as a human being. In my nineteen years, I have had the opportunity to live in three different countries on three different continents. I have also been fortunate enough to travel to twenty two different countries in my lifetime, and nearly two thirds of those I backpacked through this past year. The reason I feel compelled to express my history of travelling is because if you intend to understand me you must understand that I feel that my travels are the biggest contribution to the core of who I am. I fully expect to continue adventuring the earth as I will be closer to completing who I am through each culture that I experience first hand. I believe that living locally is the key to understanding the basis of a country’s fundamental identity. As I’m sure you can imagine, I have much to say about this wanderlust, but there is also more to the girl sitting at this computer typing letters on the keyboard. I would like to share my plan. The greater idea of this plan is that I haven’t figured it out yet. Feel free to call me out on it, but I don’t like to think about my own future very much, I like to leave much of my thinking to the imagination that doesn’t incorporate a timeline. So the plan that I am continuously fabricating has a base which is this; I want to help people. I also know that there are a lot of like minded people who want to do the same. There is a lot of work ahead, but I am striving to add my education at UBC to my life experience and see what can be produced. I hope that this portrays an accurate representation of part of who I am.

As for life narratives, I would like to bring a few specific people to light. The First is Chris McCandless, he was an every day American beyond our time. He was a spatial rebel in the way that he saw the material world in front of him and decided to defy society’s expectations by donating all of his life saving to charity after graduating from college with the ultimate goal to make it to Alaska and live off the land. Many know his story as “Into the Wild.” Though if you look into this, it’s not what led to his death (as admittedly could have been avoided with reasonable preparation and several minor changes) that I want to highlight, it’s his mind, and his perspective. So a question that I pose is this; How does an individual find it in themselves to overcome society’s norms and rise above to aspire for greater happiness, a more self aware being, and a broader perspective? McCandless as a voice, and as a modern philosopher of sorts is very inspirational in the way that he saw a flaw in society and defied what was expected of him. There are others like McCandless, for an example, Henry David Thoreau. These ideas that they idolized and shared are interesting to look into.

Thank you for reading,

Tima Johnson