Letter to Future Gateway Students

Dear Future Gateway Student,

Words don’t seem to be coming quickly to me right now. I’m not surprised—it’s finals season and I have been in a robotic work flow for the past few days. Writing this post forces me to be a person again. I guess that’s one thing I’ve learned from this course, that writing really forces it out of you. The “it” may be different for you, but for me it represents a commitment to my thoughts, even when I’m not sure where they are going or if they are valuable. The gateway course taught me that even a seemingly silly, insignificant, or boring string of words is worth writing. That’s what a shitty first draft is for. We talked a lot about the “shitty first draft” in here, which, in all honestly, I am skeptical of. I found myself writing some shitty first drafts in this class, which made those drafts hard to revisit. This became the biggest challenge for me. My shitty first drafts didn’t seem to help my progress, but they made me feel stuck. I felt like there was little hope for them to go from shitty drafts to good drafts. This fear paralyzed me. So, future gateway student, keep in mind that once you write and submit the shitty first draft, you’ll have to read and revise it. It might be painful.

We pretty much have one project that we work with the whole year, which begins with the repurposing project. Choose your initial piece wisely. I chose a personal essay that I hated. In fact, I brought it in the first or second class as an example of something I’ve written and don’t like. Why did I chose it to stick with the whole semester? I thought it would be a challenge that I would grow from. I was determined to turn it into a piece of writing that I felt proud of. Well, it’s the last day of class and I don’t feel that way at all, so if I could go back to the beginning of the course I would’ve chosen differently. Even though I know that choosing to challenge yourself is a good thing. So do that, future gateway student: challenge yourself! But keep in mind that there are no guarantees. You may write a shitty first draft and you may leave with a shitty final draft. Hopefully that’s not the case for you. But that was what surprised me about this course most. I thought I would feel great about writing as the semester wrapped up, but I don’t. I won’t give up on writing. I’m not going to drop the minor. But this class was a reminder that good writing doesn’t just happen. I used to think that I could magically become a great writer, but writing is just like anything else that takes practice and time. So don’t expect to come out of this class as a freshly inspired young writer. Maybe you will, which would be great. It seems like a lot of my peers feel that way. But you might, like me, find out more about what you’re not so great at. You might, like me, realize that there’s a lot more work to put in.

Good luck!

Annie

Re-visiting “Why I Blog”

Just so you know, I didn’t think of this opening sentence in advance. I just wrote it, just now, as you’re reading it. Welcome to my mind. I think in lists—not all the time—but a lot of the time. Because a lot of the time I am figuring out everything I need to do and there’s simply too much to remember. Eggs, yogurt, baby carrots, Cholula. Do laundry. Respond to that email. Sign up for yoga class. Call Mary back. Write blog post.
But to write this, I first had to re-read Sullivan’s “Why I Blog,” and as I read it, I kept a digital sticky note floating next to my browser window. Below I have outlined a list of questions and comments that went through my head as I scrolled Sullivan’s lengthy article:

  1. What would Orwell consider Sullivan’s motivation here?
    • Egoism? Aesthetics? History? Politics?
      • There’s definitely some egoism going on here. I mean, Sullivan is arguing in favor of a form of writing that he is deeply involved with. He is writing to support and affirm his own beliefs, and transfer those beliefs to his readers. Nothing wrong with that though. There’s some attention to aesthetics (like his reference to jazz and the comfort of reading printed words while lying in bed), but that’s not the focus. His motivations in this article are mostly historical and political. He puts blogging into a historical context, by stating its origins and how it has taken shape on the internet today, and into a political context, by explaining the role that blogging plays in online journalism.
  2. What would Didion think of the blogging process?
    • Didion believes in writing as a channel for discovery. While for Didion this belief applies mostly to storytelling, I think it can be applied to any form of writing. Sullivan and Didion would probably agree that blogging is a productive way to think through new ideas. However, as Sullivan mentions, the ideas formed through blogging are so fresh that they are often picked apart and scrutinized. So will all blog posts lead to an award-winning novel? Definitely not. But is there value in recording par-baked ideas? Absolutely.
  3. Sullivan thinks that writers have thin skin!
    • Does Joan Didion have thin skin?
      • It’s hard to tell, maybe that’s why she seems so cool.
  4. After reading that Sullivan has an assistant to help him find links and photographs, I considered including an overwhelming amount of hyperlinks and obnoxious memes in this post as my way of saying: HEY EVERYONE, THIS IS A BLOG!
    • I decided not to. But a few is ok.
    • I also considered writing this blog post about the ways in which blogging is similar to clickbait media. I decided against that as well.
  5. A blog could be a way to look back on your own writing and see how your motivations have changed.
    • This is where Orwell’s thoughts on a writer’s motivations and Sullivan’s interest in blogging intersect with my experience in the writing minor. The exercises, blog posts, and projects of this course will act as a record of how and what I thought as an undergrad at Michigan. However, this personal record becomes more rich and complex when combined with my own out-of-class writing. I hope that this writing minor not only strengthens my linguistic skills but also my passion to exercise my voice. I hope to finish this course, and graduate from Michigan, with a drive to continue to write.
  6. Sullivan mentions that bloggers must have a blogging sensibility. This reminded me of how Orwell described his younger-self as having a “facility with words,” and lead me to believe that Orwell would have been a great blogger.
  7. Sullivan notes that bloggers don’t have much time to evolve their thoughts and opinions.
    • This is troubling for me, because I am so afraid of saying something that I later regret. I know I have to overcome this fear, and keeping a blog is a great way to do that.
  8. The last thing I thought about was how Sullivan kept referring to blogging as “writing out loud,” which, in combination with the demand for immediacy, made me think to write a blog post in which I lay out my raw thoughts, as they exist in my head, before I’ve had the time to edit and censor.
    • I hope this didn’t give you a headache.

Drafting and Revising Your Project

There is a lot of useful technical information in the “Drafting and Revising Your Project” chapter of Writer/Designer. The checklist on page 110, which supplies criteria for a solid rough draft, stands out to me as especially rich information. A lot teachers and instructors assume that students already have systems and methods that they utilize during their process. While this is true, as most students have developed their own methods through habit and experience, advice on how to efficiently navigate the steps of starting a new project is always useful. I’ve learned from experience, and been told countless times, that an organized and coherent process is as important as a successful finished product. I will hold my work to the standard of this checklist while working on my ePortfolio rough draft to make sure that my work is ready for review. This chapter also had some good advice about how to give feedback. For example, readers should familiarize themselves with the rhetorical situation of the text to most effectively evaluate the strengths and weaknesses.

When applying these points of advice to the ePortfolio project, I consider the ways the content of my ePortfolio will affect the rhetorical situation of my ePortfolio as a whole. The collection of work that I include in my ePortfolio will undertake a meaning of its own, just as the individual pieces of a museum exhibition all contribute their own unique tones to the overarching theme of the show. I will asses the rhetorical situations of my individual projects, and design my website based on the way my projects speak together.

Blogging My Process

In-class work days are a blessing. (Thank you, Shelley.) I felt my momentum build this morning as I finally dug into my “First Draft” Google Doc on Suggesting Mode. I find great satisfaction in seeing old type crossed out and replaced with new green words—like fresh grass. 

greengrass_lawnmowing

 Ahhh, I can almost smell it. ^..^

I’ve felt a little bogged down by all of our assignments in preparation for the re-purposing project. There’s been a lot of analyzing, reading, and researching, but very little actual writing. Getting into the actual material felt like a breath of fresh air. The feelings of inspiration I felt in class this morning were also partly due to the fact that I was listening to this soul-warming song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DM9fGXHhlk. Plus, I felt super prepared from the preparatory assignments.

There’s a freshness and innocence to beginnings. They’re scary, no doubt—the continuously blinking cursor of a new document has haunted every writer. But there is endless potential to that blank page. It’s like meeting someone who you think is cute, and then thinking about your life together as a married couple later that night before bed. There’s a sweetness to that fantasy, and even though you don’t consider the harsh realities of the situation, that moment of possibility is valuable on its own. I guess, as I write this blog post, I see me and my project in our honeymoon phase. We’ve been seeing each other for awhile, I think about them a lot, we even got married when I chose them as my re-purposing piece. I’ve gotten cold feet, lost interest, gained interest. And here we are now, feeling optimistic about our future.

However, I do have some concerns. I am writing an advice column, yet I’m not entirely confident that I am the best advice-giver. I definitely don’t always know what to think of situations, how to react to adversity, or overcome challenges. I might look back on my finished project in twenty-years and laugh at my own naiveté. This is scary, because I may end up feeling silly by writing this piece. However, I’m kind of excited by that possibility… (I’m a masochist, by the way.) When I looked back at middle-school journal entries, like the one in which I printed and taped a 20-page long AIM conversation with my then crush, bballboi95, I laugh at myself with sweet joy. This project, whether I see it as a failure or a success at the end of the semester, will serve as a relic for my personal time machine. That’s really exciting.

Throughout the rounds of drafts and stages of development, I am going to ask for a lot of feedback. I will ask my peers what they think, not only about my writing, but about the messages within my advice column. I will also ask my sister and friends to give their input. The most helpful contribution from peers and friends will be their honesty. I am asking, with all sincerity, to please please be honest. I think if I’m writing an advice-column, I should be strong enough to take some criticism…

 

Planning Project 1

https://nplusonemag.com/online-only/online-only/emptiness/

The control that Dombek commands over her audience in Emptiness interests me both intellectually and artistically. She achieves this control by proactively considering how her readers will react to her probing and emotionally-stirring arguments. Her language is mostly casual, at times even nonchalant. She supports herself with moments of light humor and philosophical context. Dombek concludes her article by not only asking the viewer to reconsider everything they’ve just read, but the way they see the humans around them.

 

“THE NARCISSIST IS, according to the internet, empty. Normal, healthy people are full of self, a kind of substance like a soul or personhood that, if you have it, emanates warmly from inside of you toward the outside of you.”

In the first sentence of her article, Dombek gets in the reader’s face, prompting them to question if they are a narcissist, with the phrase if you have it after addressing how our souls should function. She is discreet, but direct.

“No one knows what it is, but everyone agrees that narcissists do not have it. Disturbingly, however, they are often better than anyone else at seeming to have it.”

Dombek uses vague words like “they” and “it” throughout her writing. While most writers would agree that unspecific pronouns are a big no, I think Dombek is using ambiguity to build mystery and suspense. She is well-aware that her audience has a personal investment in her piece because they are eager to find out what classifies a narcissist, and more importantly, if they themselves are one.

“If one of your parents is a narcissist, he or she will tell you that you are a rock star, too, which is definitely a trick.”

Dombek gets more invasive with her argument, forcing the reader to question the morality of their own parents. While I think this is almost cruel, I appreciate her awareness of the effect she has on her readers’ emotions. She’s toying with as as we read with eyes wide open.

“He will unfriend you, stop following you, stop returning your emails, stop talking to you completely. He will cheat on you without seeming to think it’s a big deal, or break up with you, when he has said he’d be with you forever.”

These specific examples are intimate and deeply emotional, but widely relatable. She knows that most have had their hearts broken, and isn’t afraid to bring it up in order to support her argument. As Dombek lists off more and more examples of how a narcissist may treat you, her writing begins to feel increasingly autobiographical. In this list of a paragraph, she transforms from teacher to fellow human being, who too has felt pain and understands yours.

“It isn’t that the narcissist is just not a good person; she’s like a caricature of what we mean by ‘not a good person.’”

Dombek switches between “he,” “she,” and “they” pronounces in her examples, maintaining a sense of specificity while implying that narcissism has no face or gender.

“You might empathize: how horrible to live this way, having to imitate self-ness all the time.”

She’s reading our minds again! This gives Dombek control of her argument, because she predicts what her readers may be thinking and provides a counter or alternative argument.

“Some mental health professionals think that you can love a narcissist, in a way, but that you just have to treat him or her like a six-year-old and expect nothing from that person. Some do think that narcissists can change. Deciding between these two theories can haunt you forever.”

Dombek’s writing catches me off-guard. Some do think that narcissists can change is a simplistic sentence with non-descriptive language. However, her next sentence is penetrating and demands the viewer to question their ethos.

“Why is having a boyfriend or a boss so much like having your own personal villain, anyway?”

This is the first sentence of a paragraph that poses carefully crafted rhetorical questions one after the other. These questions address thoughts that she assumes the reader already has.

http://www.metastatic.org/text/This%20is%20Water.pdf

This is Water by David Foster Wallace is one of my favorite pieces of writing. Wallace addresses the perils of our “default-setting” thought and prompts us to reconsider the way we thinking on a daily basis, all while maintaining a friendly voice and transparency of intention.

 

“A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded.”

“Stuff” may be the least pretentious word—a formal writing faux-pas. But DFW pulls it off. He writes as we speak, with intellect but more importantly with humanness.

“Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real — you get the idea.”

Wallace trusts his readers. He does not over-argue, or use too many examples to prove himself right. He states his thoughts concisely, in accessible terms — you get the idea.

“Probably the most dangerous thing about college education, at least in my own case, is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract arguments inside my head instead of simply paying attention to what’s going on right in front of me.”

I am always unsure when I should generalize my experiences, assuming others can relate, or be specific about how I am relating my ideas to my own life. I think that Wallace balances this well, as shown in the sentence above. A simple, or at least in my own case, gives the reader the option to choose whether or not this idea can or should be applied to the experience of others.

“Think of the old cliché about ‘the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.'”

Wallace guides his viewers through this piece of writing. He’s not holding our hand, but he’s making sure we’re still with him.

“Anyway, you finally get to the checkout line’s front, and pay for your food, and wait to get your check or card authenticated by a machine, and then get told to “Have a nice day” in a voice that is the absolute voice of death, and then you have to take your creepy flimsy plastic bags of groceries in your cart through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and try to load the bags in your car in such a way that everything doesn’t fall out of the bags and roll around in the trunk on the way home, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive rush-hour traffic, etcetera, etcetera.”

Wallace stuffs this run-on sentence of a paragraph with vivid detail, putting the reader into his view frame. This is very similar to the strategies Dombek used to connect to her audience. Wallace ends his essay by giving the reader the option to disregard everything he just said, as Dombek did in the conclusion of her article. “The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it.”

What are Multimodal Projects?

An increasingly popular interest in physical health and detest for aspartame were the perfect conditions to launch LaCroix as the next big thing. The calorie and sweetener free sparkling water is flavored with “essence” and describes itself as “innocent” across its aesthetically nostalgic can. The drink became a booming success, thus the birth of MyLaCroix.com.
MyLaCroix.com is a quintuple multimodel text—leading with visuals. A full range color palette allows its user to customize six different sections of a LaCroix can. The linguistic mode is working minimally, but effectively, guiding viewers to understand the simple functions of the website with commands such as “Name my flavor.” The gestural mode is arguably the backbone of the site’s appeal. The spinning can gives the satisfaction of watching a potter maneuver their clay on the wheel in slow motion. Users may slightly manipulate the position of the can, encouraging interaction. MyLaCroix.com’s use of the spatial mode is straight-forward: a spinning can on the left, with a smaller command box on its right, both behind a simple navy background. Simple design is supreme, always. The aural mode comes into play once you have “flavorizer” your can; the sound of that initial open, pop, and fizz makes it hard not to say “ah!” and half-smile. The combination of interactivity and play make for an engaging platform.
Similarly to MyLacroix.com, Quizlet (an online study tool) encourages user participation by using all five modes of communication. (Look for yourself: https://quizlet.com/105193061/flashcards) As I brush up on my pasta knowledge, I am guided with words, images, sounds, animated gestures, and organized space. I see a picture described as “a tube-shaped pasta with square cut ends.” I click the top of the white rectangle, which resembles a flashcard. The flashcard flips, as it would in real life, and a womanly sounding robot with an Italian accent says “rigatoni.” Quizlet and MyLaCroix are similar in the ways and modes that they engage their audience; however, the sites serve two different purposes. Because Quizlet has a clear educational purpose, and is more than a fun way to waste time, it’s spacial and linguistic modes are emphasized to guide viewers through instructions and exercises. Both texts are current and are examples of simple and effectively designed communication.
Not all multimodal texts use their modes as gracefully. For example, this campaign advertisement for Dale Peterson, a 2010 republican nominee for the Alabama agriculture commissioner, hyperbolizes all five modes. The ad uses strong traditional American imagery: The Declaration of Independence, a horse on a farm, a bigoted white man holding a rifle, etc. This text is BOLD and persistent, never leaving the screen’s corner. A hopeful and inspiring musical score breathes life into Dale’s delivery of “Let’s show Alabama we mean business.” Quick cuts, extreme zooms, and shots from every angle make use of the spatial mode. Perhaps this is to keep television viewers interested and engaged. It’s working, Dale!! The ad’s use of the gestural mode is prominent as well. The calculated intention of Peterson’s body language is easy to see through. With swift force, he removes the aviators from his rosy face and demands the viewer to “listen up!” Throughout the following minute, Dale Peterson consciously manipulates his body-language to appear, as some would consider, trustworthy, assertive, and strong. Who’s fooled? The hyperbole of each mode makes for an unbelievably comical message.
However, there are some people who can get away with a little extra. In this interview with bell hooks, a feminist and literary theorist, the viewer is almost overwhelmed with images and words: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQUuHFKP-9s The images and videos of pop culture not only relate to the subject matter of the interview but support hooks’ argument that pop culture is compelling. As a viewer, I am happy to watch clips of movies and television shows as I listen to a brilliant woman speak of their significance. While the animated titles and words are a bit extreme, they serve the purpose of reinforcing bell hooks’ ideas, which aligns with the educational function of the video. In shots of hooks’ talking, she appears calm but engaged. She does not push for the viewers to believe what she is saying, à la Dale Peterson. Although there are five types of modes, each can be used differently, both effectively and ineffectively. These modes are tools to effective communication, but must be applied wisely.

How Writing Leads to Thinking

Beginning a paragraph is like walking into a dark room to look for your glasses. You reach your arms out, and with a light touch, feel the surfaces around you. Although unsure of your directional progress, you know the only way to succeed is to keep trying. So you take a few steps forward, back, and sideways, get on your hands and knees, pause. However, if your glasses here represent clarity, there will be times when you don’t always find them. Perhaps you’ll see your darkroom differently—its cast shadows transform to landscapes and characters. Your end result was not what you imagined, or necessarily hoped for, but it’s an end result that changed your original perceptions nonetheless.

Writing is directional but non-linear. Ideas become words which inspire new ideas, and the cycle continues. In this semester course, and in the Writing Minor as a whole, I hope to exercise this cycle. I hope to cultivate my ideas, allowing them the freedom to grow and transform. With writing comes a great potential for discovery and surprise. This potential grows as it is supplemented with outside influences and peer feedback. The Sweetland minor will provide these essential components, which will challenge me as a creative and thoughtful inhabitant of our current world. My experience in the minor will also strengthen my mental relationship with writing and thinking.

I expect to build up my “writing stamina,” so to speak. I was taught how to run. I was taught how to write. There have been times when I’ve had to run a few miles here and there. I’ve had to write papers of multiple page lengths from time to time. But I’ve never been taught or obligated to go on a run every single day. If I had, maybe I’d be a marathon runner today. I’ve never been taught how to turn writing into an everyday habit. More than once or twice a week, I will journal about my thoughts or feelings of the day, I’ll tweet a fleeting thought, or jot down an overheard conversation on the bus. But I’m not sure that persistence and dedication is all it takes to develop and grow as a writer. Through the minor, I hope to equip myself with more tools, for both writing and thinking, that will help me get off the ground and will follow me for a lifetime.