Tis the season! A Real Life Ghost Story

For experiment #3, I decided to do something a little more radical than my last two experiments. I will be writing a Ghost Story about the election of Donald Trump. It will focus on the deeper meaning behind a ghost story and what each character represents.

How to Write a Ghost Story:

In today’s society of technology and emphasis on the facts, we are in a era of reason. Great ghost stories are those that are deeper than skeletons and vampires. They play on our worst fears and have terror underneath the surface. As Roald Dahl defiantly stated, “The bet stories don’t have ghosts in them”. Ghost stories remind us that terror is just around the corner, and it can come in different shapes and sizes. The best ghost stories are those have the real chaos when no one is looking. It is the element of surprise that keeps us vigilant of the unknown.

Ghost writing goes between the psychological and physical. It is important for ghost writing to blur between reality and madness. The conventions of traditional ghost stories can vary, but often include chilling sounds, mysterious stains, and crime. Most importantly, atmosphere is critical for ghost writing. The mood, sounds, scents, and resonance all play crucial roles in setting the stage for the horror that will ensue. The idea that another presence or individual lies outside our conscience is what intrigues us. Good ghost stories never make someone laugh as well.

There exist numerous ways to properly formulate a ghost story. For my purposes, I will be constructing a ghost story that is in a short story format. First, I will set the stage describing the characters in a way so that is clear what/who they represent. Using descriptive jargon, I will describe the terror that is occurring and how it is affecting those in the community. The most difficult part when telling the story is to make sure the deeper meaning underneath is clear. When writing a ghost story, it is important to realize that you are not only creating the ghost, but you are crafting the way the reader encounters the ghost.

The drawbacks of this genre are that it can often alienate a larger audience. Younger audiences and families may not want to read a ghost story that plays on their fears. A general population may not want to intentionally be freaked out by a story they are reading. Additionally, not many individuals will read a ghost story in the middle of July. The typical audience for a ghost story would be young adults.

There are many ghost stories out there, spanning from just a few sentences to longer novel stories. One example accounts the story of a girl named Hannah. Living with her family and 4 siblings, she encountered frequent supernatural and scary events. From loud noises to doors closing rapidly, she felt terrorized in her home. When all of the family members finally discussed what was happening in the house, a mirror flew off the wall and shattered. On the back of the mirror, 666 was carved repeatedly along with the message “I am going to f—king kill you all.” Throughout it all, Hannah writes she still loved her home, and she tried to stop as many rumors as she can. This example highlights the major conventions of a ghost story: suspense, horror, and descriptive detail. The ghosts seem to haunt the family because they chose to live in the home, perhaps the ghosts were angry that the family “trespassed” into their home.


The Proposal

For this experiment, I will be writing a ghost story focusing on the election of Donald Trump. Once again, I will be expanding from the Facebook post I made during the election last November. The audience of this piece will be young adults who were affected by the election. The Trump like character will be represented by a ghost of yesterday’s past. When Donald Trump won the election, he emboldened many groups that were dormant for so long. When the KKK held their white nationalist rally at University of Virginia, it was a testament to the type of hate and hate groups Trump was able to embolden with the election. This ghost story will focus on the scariest moments of the Trump presidency, but they will be highlighted in an implicit way. This genre joins the conversation because so many individuals are scared by this presidency. Playing on the fears of many (unfortunately), I will turn real life events into a chilling story.


The Committed Hobbyist—A Twist on the Traditional Venetian Technique

Sometimes my friends come over to my house and try their hand at oil painting. I know how to guide them through setting up a palette, provide them materials to paint, and help them choose a reference to work from. What I haven’t yet discovered is the “correct” amount of information to share with them. Do they want to hear about the three waves of pigment (the natural pigments, the industrial pigments, and the dye-based pigments)? These waves influence choices of color mixing and help balance intensity when new painters are starting out. Do they need the explanation of how this influences the way I recommend setting up a palette? Do they want to hear the names of the colors and see different ways of mixing them? Is it too much new information all at once? Is a hands-off approach better? Do they just need an open space to branch out and try something new?

My friend pretending to help me with a painting

I’m not sure if my friends are interested in this level of detail when I’m throwing so many new things at them. Sometimes I decide to just give them the space to play until they ask for help. Even though it might be too much to process for my friends in such a short time, I think that the average bored retiree–or anyone who is willing to take the time and put forth the financial investment–would definitely be interested.

A friend working on a painting of sunflowers with a venetian palette

For my third experiment I am constructing a how to paint piece called The Committed Hobbyist—A Twist on the Traditional Venetian Technique. I plan to guide readers through the historical relevance of waves of pigment, the importance of lighting and the factors important in establishing a good space, and finally the steps of setting up a pallet and painting.

As my audience is primarily older folk with time and money to spend, I will make this tutorial accessible to them in a paper manual format as well as a digital PDF format. It will be connected to a youtube channel with a few guiding videos.

Photo of Painter’s Palette Source:https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/04/Oil_painting_palette.jpg/227px-Oil_painting_palette.jpg

In my research in how to organize a how-to tutorial, I learned that a good tutorial should be practical and specific. Avoiding walls of text is an essential aspect of a good tutorial and—if applicable—the tutorial should also include pictures. I think most good tutorials are “skimmable”—they provide a ton of information, but highlight what you really need to know if you are just trying to get the gist of what to do. The formatting should be varied to stress the key points and to allow the interested reader to dive into the piece if they so choose. I will try to organize my “how to” in a visual, easy-to-read manner that conveys information about every step of the painting process from deciding to try painting, to what paint to buy, to finishing the last brushstrokes. Additionally, I plan to make a few brief video accompaniments of things that need to be explained in movement instead of the typed word or photo. However, this will not be a “do what i’m doing,” kind of tutorial–it will instead try to give the viewer the tools and initiative to try something themselves.

A few key points to remember in writing a how-to tutorial:

  • Start with the importance of the skill that the tutorial is teaching–establish why your reader needs to keep reading and ensure that your reader is in your intended audience by giving them a quick summary
  • Consider discussing historical relevance and background information
  • Dive into your first steps, and integrate them with photos! What should the reader DO? How should this change the way they are currently acting?
  • Continue to list out the step-by-step approach while adding in photos and explaining the importance of each step
  • Finish up with a few further sources if the reader wants more information on the topic
  • Verbally support your reader to follow through and do it!

The Happy Medium Between Science and Personality

For my past experimentation, I took a more scientific approach on a personal experience. While, the insight gained from this process was extremely useful, something was missing when the information was presented in a purely scientific format. The voice and personal experience that was cultivated through the series of diary entires was lost. So, for this next experiment, I plan on combining the personal experience of the diary entries and scientific basis of the literary review paper into a comic. I think this will be a great platform, because in cartoons and comics, authors convey current events, controversies, or historical events in a comedic or personal manner, which amplifies a reader’s reaction to the piece.

Traditional comics have relatively the same overarching characteristics of creating an argument or claim, usually through humor. They are usually published in online or print magazines and newspapers, and therefore lend themselves to an intended audience of people who are interested in the subject, so scientists, professors, and students for scientific comics. However, I think comics are so powerful because their audience invoked is so large. Anyone who reads the magazine or newspaper where the comic is located is exposed to it, whether they are originally interested in it or not. In fact, some people skip straight to the comic section in the Sunday news.

Here are some traditional comics that caught my eye:

After researching some examples for formatting a comic, I found that there are a few variations in the genre:

  • Color vs. black and white
  • Multi-strip vs. single strip
  • Comment blurb vs. words throughout

This helped me narrow down what I want to do for my piece. Looking at different examples, I find the color comics more eye-catching and will use that technique in my own piece. I believe that my message will be better suited for a single strip, rather than multi, comic. Also, having words throughout my comic will flow better than containing them to blurbs.

While many comics use humor to further their claims, I feel like this might be inappropriate to talk about such an impactful disorder like depression. Therefore, for my experiment I am choosing to go against this norm of the comic genre, and instead attempt to draw deeper and more emotional reaction from the readers, while still keeping the same formatting structure.

I think what I hope to emulate is more along the lines of a project that my friend, Kathryn Rossi, a student at FIT, created for her math class which she shared via her Instagram @kathryn_rossi:


Following an author: Maria Bamford

This week, I decided to choose a theme/specific area and research articles about it. I chose Mental Health and I found an interesting article by Maria Bamford in The New York Times. In this article, she explores battling mental health through finding love on the basis of someone loving her for “her” and not for anything else. She describes her state of mind and feelings over a period of one and a half years, and described how she wanted to feel “loved” and “wanted,” relating how she could feel special if her illnesses got better and improved. She describes her experience at a ward of how there was a couple with so many problems and difficulties, yet they felt loved and belonged. She wanted to experience a change in her life by meeting someone who could relate to her through little things such as reading, romantic hang-outs etc. She indeed meet someone that helped her slowly recover and find herself in a happy place.

Overall, I feel that this article clearly articulates her personal feelings when dealing with mental health illnesses and is effective in conveying her thoughts wittingly and humorously through her choice of vocabulary. I really liked the format of her piece since she started off with a description of herself, followed by an anecdote and closed it with finding love and happiness.

Infographics-When reading is out-of-fashion

For my third and final experiment I wanted to embrace the goal of radically transforming my origin piece. I started this whole journey with a short journal entry, and have tried to transform it so far into a rap song and a forum post. Especially with my second experiment, I have felt as if I am too entrenched in the linguistic mode when I approach my genre selection. Thankfully, a timeless adage came to me: a picture is worth a thousand words. Think about that ratio for a second. I could use just half a picture and already meet the requirement for this blog post I’m writing. That’s efficiency, plan and simple. Thus, I settled on creating an infographic as my third experiment.

In broad strokes, an infographic is a data-driven image that uses effective design to educate its audience. If that wasn’t a satisfying enough description, here’s a link to infographic explaining what an infographic is (now that’s what I call meta!). An infographic is basically the greatest PowerPoint slide in the world. It takes a bunch of dry statistics and morphs it into a palatable visual, as opposed to just inundating readers with paragraphs. The maxims of a good infographic are data density and clarity. Much like an overenthusiastic mother going on a 2-day vacation, a good infographic needs to pack a lot into a small package.

Infographics also lean heavily on the spatial and visual modes as a means on communication. The makers of great infographics understand that, just like getting measles or lead paint, reading is a holdover from the 20th century. In the Internet age less needs to be more, and oftentimes a good picture can express big ideas much easier than the equivalent requisite words. In addition, backing up data with visuals is a powerful instructional tool. Infographics have been shown to be extremely effective in enhancing the appeal and retention of the data they present.

The genre, while clearly effective, is not without its risks. A huge issue with infographics is the misappropriation of the data they present. While these images make it very easy to get your point across, they also provide the less scrupulous with an avenue to present less-than-credible or deliberately misconstrued statistics. In a world where “95% of infographics from unknown sites are filled with distortions and lies”, it becomes paramount for someone making an infographic to double and triple check their sources, and to present their data in context it was gathered. While many infographics do reference their sources, this section is often tagged on at the end of the piece, and connecting a given source to a specific piece of data becomes a Herculean task.

Great example of a hodge-podge of sources that a reader will never follow up on

For my experiment, I am going to take my original journal and turn it into an infographic on caregiver burnout. This direction is a fairly big change in both medium and subject matter. I am moving away from the linguistic mode into a more strongly image driven piece. I am also expanding beyond my individual experience with my patient and addressing a wider phenomenon experience by hospice caregivers. My audience for this piece would be those very caregivers, as they are the group afflicted by caregiver burnout. The piece will also be relevant for coordinators of hospice programs, as it provides insight into difficulties experienced by the families of those requiring care. In presenting my piece, I could potentially submit it to my volunteer coordinator and see what she thinks. Our regular hospice emails make dissemination a non-issue. Overall, this experiment is shaping up to be an exciting new direction for my work!

Cheryl Strayed: Beautiful Little Things

Following Cat Marnell eventually led me to find this wonderful book “Beautiful Little Things” by Cheryl Strayed. The book is filled with open letters to Sugar, an advice columnist. Sugar then responds giving anecdotes and advice. Sugar, aka Cheryl Strayed, is extremely engaging. I found myself highlighting lines, something I have never done before in a book. I cannot seem to put it down. Incredible book and definitely recommend. I plan on looking further into Cheryl come future reads.

Blogging About Blogs

I realized last week, much to my own surprise, that I actually read blogs all the time. I don’t actively follow any bloggers, so I’ve never considered myself to be a blog reader, per say. However, when I started paying attention to my online habits while doing some blogging research, I noticed that much of what I read on the internet comes from the blog section of a news outlet or website. Also, in the spirit of full disclosure, and so I don’t misrepresent myself as a savvy, in-the-know person who reads the news every day, I read a lot of clickbait (like almost exclusively). But even most clickbait is posted in blog format, too. These days, everyone from The New York Times to the Kardashians have a blog, so for my third and final experiment for the gateway course, I’ve decided to do a blog post about the ways in which the female body, and subsequently women’s healthcare, is policed by today’s society. Blogs are very much personalized to who is writing them and why. There are probably infinitely many ways to write a blog, but there are some simple conventions that can help your post stack up against all the other cool and distracting things on the internet. So, here are a few steps to making a blog post, which I’ve written in a blog post (so meta):

  • Who Do You Know Here: Much like a frat house, the internet has a constant tide of people coming and going, saying vulgar things, and leaving their messes for other people to clean up. That’s why your mom told you not to trust everything you read online. And that has never been more true than in today’s world, where literally any human can post their opinions for the whole world to see. They don’t even have to use proper grammar or spell check! The audacity. So, when you write a blog post, the most important step is to construct and retain credibility as a writer. Otherwise, everything you say holds no bearing on the reader, as they will deem you to be just another loon preaching into the empty void that we call the internet. This first step is actually twofold, as it includes where you post your blog, and how you write your blog. So, here we go…
    1. Location, Location, Location: As any real estate agent would tell you, it’s all about location. Now, I’m not a real estate agent, but I can tell you that there are some locations on the internet that you would prefer not to explore. That is why your blog post should be positioned somewhere people do want to explore! This might mean being a guest blogger on an already established blog site. Or, you might consider posting on community forums. For example, the blog Feministing has a community forum where anyone can post, and exceptional posts are often featured on the main site. Forums such as this give you a chance to connect with your intended audience, while at the same time giving your post the opportunity for more exposure if it lands a spot on the main page. Where you post is very important for credibility, as it sets the tone for how your work is perceived. If you post on more credible sites, you are seen as more credible. However, if you want to start you own blog, go for it! Just be sure to build an atmosphere of responsible and thoughtful posting, and you’ll be internet famous in no time.

      The not late, but great Jason Derulo reminding you to be mindful of watcha say on the internet (and how you say it). PS it was surprisingly difficult to find a picture of him with his shirt on.
    2. Watcha Say (mmh that you only meant well, well of course you did): As the great Jason Derulo once lyricized, we all have moments where well-meaning intentions go awry. It happens to Jason Derulo, it happens in life, and it happens in writing. The second part of staying credible revolves around how you write your post, which means making a conscious effort to write in a way that will portray your opinion in a clear and concise manner, lest it be misconstrued. Now, blog posts tend to be informal and conversational, so this doesn’t mean you have to write academically in all of your blogs from here on out to build credibility. I touched on this a bit when I mentioned “responsible and thoughtful posting.” Everyone has the urge to throw away their filter sometimes, especially over heated topics, and some of the best writing can come from that type of passion. This is even easier to do on a blog, where you can type up a post in minutes and publish with the simple click of a button. However, if you want to remain credible it is SO important to write responsibly (i.e. use real facts and research when needed), and thoughtfully (i.e. think about how your words might affect various groups, don’t be hurtful or hateful). Doing so will always make for better writing, but it’s even more important when you’re posting on the internet, which has a free, and often unmonitored, flow of thoughts and ideas. Your post could end up halfway around the world in just a few clicks.
  • So, I Heard You Read Mom Blogs: Okay, guys, the cat is out of the bag. Yes, I often find myself reading mom blogs on Facebook. Do they pertain to my life in any way? Most definitely not. Do I still find myself reading Scary Mommy posts on the reg, and laughing out loud? Yes, yes I do. And therein lies the essence of a great blog post. Scary Mommy doesn’t share content that is relevant to me. It doesn’t have writers who represent my current demographic at this point in my life. It doesn’t even have a name that might make me think “well that sounds like something I should read.” No matter, I find myself reading that blog because it entertains me even though I am not the primary audience. In the blogosphere, a post can go anywhere, so having a post that connects to not just your primary readers, but you audience invoked, as well, matters. After all, at the end of the day, I want everyone reading my blog post, not just the people who already agree with me.
  • It’s Nothing Personal: Blogs are, in essence, just a more polished, public version of their authors. Perhaps this is true to some extent with all writing, but the casual nature of a blog exacerbates this phenomenon. There are, of course, more formal blog posts out there. However, as a whole, blog posting is characterized by discussing topics in a very human way—much like the manner in which a conversation is held. Nowadays, there is an ever-expanding network of blogs covering everything under the sun. Seriously guys, there is a blog dedicated solely to avocados (it’s called The Scoop Blog, and I would check it out for some wonderful avo recipes). But they’re all strung together in the same genre by the way they are told as a personal narrative. In many lifestyle blogs, posts are often a bit like a confessional, where the writer admits their missteps, and then shares what they have learned through their imperfections. Blogs can be comedic, honest, touching, and everything in between. But the best ones have a personal touch, and make you feel like you’re right there with the writer, having a good chat. Write whatever it is you have to say, be that a blog on fashion or female healthcare, in a way that is aggressively “you.” Whatever your personal style may be, find it and hold on to it for dear life, because writing for all the internet to see might be a bumpy ride, folks.

Current Challenges (not edited)

The following is an un-edited copy of my in-class writing from today, which discusses the challenges I am currently facing in the Capstone Course:

“I am just now starting to realize how much work I have left to complete in approximately six short weeks. At the beginning of the term, I was basing my perceived workload on the research paper component of my project, but failed to account for all the time that will be required to create the website and write the Introduction Essay. My meeting with T this past Friday, during which I clarified my plans for these additional components, was thus somewhat shocking.

With that said, I am still very excited about realizing the goals I have set for my project, which include potentially submitting my paper to a scientific journal for publication. The fact that I am not dreading this project has helped keep my stress levels down. It is now just a matter of finding time in my schedule to do the work. But, I have no travel plans in November so I should be able to make a lot of progress rather quickly.

More specifically, my plan is to complete the full draft of the research paper, and then focus on the project site itself as well as the Introduction Essay. I also need to work on my upcoming presentation slides for the University of Michigan Pediatric Research Symposium I am presenting at. I plan to include these slides and potentially an audio file of my talk on my project site as an additional resource for people to view.”

I usually spend time editing and re-wording my blog posts before publishing them, but I like the feeling of leaving this work as is.

Tracking a Venue: The Hairpin

Tracking my first author, Anna Jury, left me at somewhat of a dead end. She hadn’t written for many media outlets and the ones that she had written for previously, ended up being tabloids. None of which really stood out to me as good writing. Instead I followed a writer who we had previously read work from; Jia Tolentino. I continually saw her work online and in the New Yorker (I’m in a magazines class so I read the New Yorker in class a lot). Therefore I decided to follow her to a new venue. This lead me to The Hairpin, an outlet she had written in before. The first few articles that I read weren’t my favorite. The style of writing was overly enthusiastic (it included a substantial amount of bolded and italicized words, quips and jokes made in parentheses, and an excessive amount of exclamation points and question marks). However, not all of the articles I read were bad. The outlet is targeted towards women, and while they didn’t identify as a feminist organization, a lot of the articles were sarcastic and hit at things a feminist website might. One article I enjoyed was called “You’re Asking For It: A Short, Situational Guide”, a snappy, sarcastic list of normal things that women do, that are taken as them “asking for it”. It was written by Amanda Mancino, who I then decided I’m going to track from The Hairpin.

An Open Letter On Open-Letters

Dear 20-year-old Connor,

I remember it vividly. I was driving home from track practice in my creaky black Ford SUV with my brother beside me in the front seat. My mind was focused solely on the stretches of double yellow lines in front of me. And then I heard it.

Confused? That’s fair—I probably could have done a better job of re-telling that anecdote. Regardless, I’m referring to the first time that I heard Jay Z’s rap anthem “Open Letter” on the airwaves. Released in 2013, the song is an “Open Letter” to Jay Z’s increasingly vocal critics, who, at the time, spoke out against his ownership stake in the Brooklyn Nets, his controversial anniversary trip to Cuba, and his new deal with Universal Music Group, among other items. In response, Jay Z unleashes a verbal barrage on his detractors, viciously attacking them for attempting “to start a revolution” with their critiques of his visit to Cuba.

While Jay Z’s “Open Letter” does not conform to the traditional conventions of the open letter genre, it maintains a direct tone similar to most open letters I have reviewed. I mention all of this—of course—because I have chosen to draft an open letter as part of my third and final experiment. As part of my open letter, I will be re-purposing a personally-relevant-style essay regarding the growing issue of academic-related stress and anxiety among high school students. I’ve chosen to experiment in this genre since it affords a significant amount of personalization and informality, yet is not overly casual or colloquial. I intend to use this increased flexibility to establish a deeper connection with my audience. While I have not decided whether I will address the open letter to a 17-year-old version of myself or to one of my high school English teachers, my addressed audience will be only a single individual in the style of other open-letters. Although my addressed audience will be somewhat limited, my invoked audience of any current or former high school student or teachers will be broader in scope.

Since I have only minor experience with this genre, I’ll need to analyze other, well-known open letters to better understand their conventions and limitations before I can begin composing my own open letter.

For the first genre model of my experiment, I reviewed an open letter from Marta, a member of the Brazilian women’s national soccer team, to her 14-year-old self. In the letter, Marta encourages her younger self to “just get on the bus” to Rio de Janeiro so she can begin her national soccer career and continue her fight “against it all – the boys, the people who say you can’t.”

Such straightforward and uplifting statements reveal that one of the conventions of the open-letter genre is its direct, personalized language, particularly if the letter is addressed to a younger version of oneself. Another convention of this genre that I observed in Marta’s letter is that open-letters begin by addressing their audience explicitly: “Dear ____.” This model also demonstrated to me that open-letters can adopt a less formal tone and involve humor—they do not have to be purely academic.

As part of my second model for this genre, I analyzed an open-letter written by a University of California student, Claudia Huynh. In her open-letter, Huynh addresses her future employer, explaining to them that she is not going to “pretend to be anything I’m not just to get a job,” and that achieving happiness—not professional success—is her ultimate goal in life. From Huynh’s frank open-letter, I noticed that the writing in this genre is often extremely candid, occasionally to a fault. I found that this genre often includes a sign-off from the writer, though this aspect is a convention, not a requirement. Additionally, through Huynh’s unique, non-traditional paragraph organization, I learned that, in this genre, the spatial mode of communication is critical and that working in this genre affords increased structural flexibility. However, reviewing Huynh’s letter also revealed to me that this genre is somewhat limited by the fact that open-letters seldom rely upon quantitative data or statistics to support their argument or overarching ideas.

My third and final model comes in the form of an open-letter penned by former Atlanta Braves player Chipper Jones to his younger self. In his letter, Jones offers advice to his teenage self and warns him of the numerous personal and professional issues he will encounter in his career, led by a mental dilemma over whether to take steroids in 1996, as several of his teammates did. From Jones’ honest open-letter, “Letter to My Younger Self,” I observed that open-letters are traditionally titled according to their audience as a “Letter to ____.” While this genre is constraining in its use of titles, it offers significant artistic freedom visually. Through Jones’ inclusion of pictures throughout his letter, I’ve noticed that this genre emphasizes the visual mode of communication. Although Jones’ letter includes graphics, it does not contain any videos or sound clips, leading me to conclude that this genre does not feature any aural modes of communication as a convention.

You can be funny, but probably not Larry David-level humor.

Now that I’ve analyzed each of these models, let’s review the open-letter genre conventions that I observed:
• Direct, personal language
• Begin by addressing audience as “Dear ____”
• Informal (even humorous at times) tone
• Writing is very candid and direct
• Includes a goodbye note from the author
• Heavily uses spatial mode of communication
• Do not (or, at least, extremely rarely) feature numerical data
• Titled according to the audience: “Letter to ____”
• Visual mode of communication emphasized
• No aural modes of communication included

There you have it—the open-letter genre. Now comes the hard part: actually writing it.


20-year-old Connor