omg we’re done, xoxo Gossip Girl

Hi MiW Cohort!

Okay – I figured I should revise this post now that I’m actually done done with all of my finals. When I wrote it yesterday, I was in the middle of writing another paper and I couldn’t even think about the euphoria or gratification that everyone around me seemed to be feeling.

Anyways, here is my project (link below). The site is a look into the world of tattooing and an exploration of the meaning of life. I wrote a semi-autobiographical short story about a girl who copes with her absurd existence by getting tattoos. As the introduction notes, “One tattoo session shifts two people. A story about the simultaneous search for and rebellion against making order of life.” The site also features quotes from prominent people in the tattoo world in an effort to extend the conversation of the meaning of tattoos past the short story.For perusing – I suggest reading the short story first. It is under Work–>Capstone.

Creating this project was a delightful test in the art of resilience and burnout. In other words, it was so exhausting (but in a good way). One of the pleasures of the Writing Minor is that it allows you to do ANYTHING. This is a double-edged sword because then you want to do EVERYTHING. I think I changed my mind about my project like four times throughout the semester, and it didn’t really click until just a few weeks ago. But like all things in life, it turned out to be okay.

For future 420 classes my advice is twofold: start early and do what you love. Thank you Shelley for letting me to that in your class. Also thank you for the brilliant titles to my project site tabs.

When I finished the gateway class, I uploaded a video of Kanye giving a speech (see here). And to commemorate that, I will upload another video of Kanye giving another speech.


Role of photos in essays

I’m wondering about the ways in which photos can complement essays beyond simply being a visual representation of words. As of now, I’ve decided to include pictures in my essay because my essay is about tattoos, a very visual art form, so I’d think it makes sense to include images about the tattoos. But what additional images, if any, can be worthwhile additions?

In my previous ENG345 we had to write a photo essay and we often discussed the lack of value of being ‘too literal.’ For instance, I wrote an essay on paranoia. A large part of it had to do with my grandmother, so one of the first pictures I attached was a picture of her. While I thought this image was pretty important, I realize now that it wasn’t necessary to the story line. The content had more to do with my grandmother’s paranoia and I suppose maybe a pictorial symbol of paranoia could have enhanced the story.

Grandma pic for reference

I specifically remember a point on the rubric being something like, “images work to add new meaning, complexity to piece.” After this photo essay, I’m wondering how images tell stories that the text cannot. Of course, the phrase “A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words” comes to mind, but no one ever really talks about how pictures work next to the text.

One thought is that a role pictures may have is that of a metaphor (e.g. paranoia of my grandmother). In my current essay, a major theme is this revelation of how small humans are in comparison to the universe. Right now, the cover of the essay is a black and white night sky speckled with stars. For me, the stars were stand-ins for the trillions of lifeforms on Earth. Looking at it another way, it may be too on the nose, as it depicts the vastness and infiniteness of the sky. But then again, it’s a pretty picture, and I think I’ll keep it for its aesthetics.


What are your thoughts on adding photos to essays?


Resisting a trickster in a suit of lights

2 am word vomit

One of the biggest problems that keeps occurring in my writing process is an anxiety towards vulnerable content. This is ironic because it’s one of the central themes of my capstone project. I’ve written things that were deeply personal to me in prior classes, but none have been so ‘about me.’ I’ve written about politics and the Paris Climate Agreement, about familial trauma, about Islam. But this topic explores my tattoos and the stories surrounding the tattoos, and it’s all so…microscopic.

I’m not so much worried about sharing things – I’m pretty open. What worries me is that it feels too ‘confessional’ as opposed to ‘creative nonfiction.’ Classmates and I explored this dilemma in my ENG325 last spring. We talked about the ways in which a story that is too concerned with itself walks the line of being confessional writing. This becomes a problem because confessional writing does not really speak to any bigger ideas or themes about life, and so people find themselves asking “Why should we care?”

Aside from this, I recently read an essay by Michael Chabon entitled, “Trickster in a Suit of Lights.” (ChabonTrickster) Chabon weighs in on the modern day short story and basically argues that a writer’s job is to entertain. He does assert that entertainment has been distorted in negative ways: its definition changed from something intellectual and interactive (i.e. dance between entertainer and the entertained), to a sort of passive, debased thing. Yet, his premises stick with me. I want to give the reader a pleasurable experience. As any other writer, I want readers to keep turning the page willingly.

How do I reconcile this urge to entertain with the desire to write liberally, for myself. When does a personal essay become too personal that it becomes a mirror in which only the author herself can see a reflection? How do I pull myself out of this?

I guess what I’m trying to say is I don’t want to write something that sucks, and I’ve been too in my head to tell. I’m tackling this problem by playing with verbs, points of view, and structure. But this could go on for infinity. What helps me is referring to models. Retracing essays or other works I’ve read, I search for how I felt after reading the essays, and how they worked their magic to make me feel that way. Essentially, reverse engineering some works I’ve enjoyed, like Leslie Jamison’s “Empathy Exams,” Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, and Eula Bliss’ “Notes from No Man’s Land” helps me see these authors construct stories that are not only important to topics of race, feminism, love, etc., but also pleasurable as hell to read.

When I think about what excites me about these essays – their originality, dialogue, seamless embedding of research, heavy content – I’m a little bit reassured that it’s not an all or nothing, singular formula type of solution, and that I should just write.


To fiction or not to fiction

To give some context, I’m writing a short story about Northwestern Bosnia, partially under the backdrop of space and place theory. My project explores how my village and city has transformed post-conflict. An important facet of this narrative is the description of places; I’ve got a few nailed down that I visited last summer and have begun to write about, but I’m running into trouble because some of the places I’m most drawn to don’t exist anymore. There was a glass hotel with a circular staircase. Before it was bombed to scraps, it was an important hub for the city. There was also the Agrokomerc business that consistently invigorated the local economy


What I know about these places I know through anecdotes and through conversations on which I have eavesdropped during various gatherings in the Bosnian community. My gut tells me I need to resurrect these places and create characters to occupy said structures. However, I’ve never written in the fictional outskirts of non fiction. I’m wondering if anyone in the cohort has experience walking this line.

In a former creative nonfiction class, I wrote about the experience of impulsive tattooing. The story and its characters were real because it was about my life, but I scrunched up the timeframe into half a day (when, in actuality, it spanned a weekend). For me this was okay because the point—as we had been discussing in class—is that creative nonfiction addresses the emotional truths of our lives; it worries less about being pedantic.

How do I do this when it comes to places that I have not experienced but that I am attached to by blood and generation? Should I use my family as a prototype, and indulge myself in writing a fictional story? I would make sure that whatever I write on the page gets at some emotional truth. For instance, if the hotel was a place of community and inclusivity, then I could create this without knowing the exact physical descriptions of the place, right? I’d use what I’ve learned from the realities Bosnian people have told me about.


How do you all work with creative nonfiction?

Commitment issues

Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever struggled so much to get started with a project. I’m having issues committing to any one thing, consequently hindering my ability to create a decent production plan. The open-endedness of the capstone project, while a huge privilege, is also the most daunting part of it. My fear is I’ll pick something that I’ll end up hating. I recognize that anything I start will require a substantial amount of research, so I’d like to at least be excited about doing the work since I don’t think I’ll have another opportunity to like this one.

My original plan was to write a short fiction story about a crime (probably rape or murder) from the perspectives of the plaintiff and defendant. I wanted to make it complicated enough to make the reader sympathize with the person committing the crime. The issue with this piece was the fiction writing. I realized just how clueless I was when it came to fiction and the amount of mentoring or research just on how to do it well would take up the bulk of the assignment – plus, I wanted to work with true stories, existing tragedies. But then this would just turn into a report on various controversial crimes and my thoughts on them. No thanks.

My second decision was to pursue a piece on climate change. I care deeply about climate change issues. I wanted to work with nature writing and maybe do a personal narrative. After days of researching nature writing and important people in the field, I think I turned myself off. Why? I’m not entirely sure. The topic just doesn’t have the ‘oomph’ that I usually get about picking a topic.

So I am backtracking- reflecting on the things I set out to do in the minor in writing initially, which is to work on my writing skills, voice, and style. I started these mechanics as freshman and I’d like to walk away having improved them quite a bit. I don’t know what genre would allow me to do this but I’m pretty sure it’s a feature piece/personal narrative.

Presently, I find myself yearning to write about a topic I’d already written about: the Bosnian war, immigrant status, etc. I swore I wouldn’t do this in the Capstone, but I’m now realizing I was too preoccupied with the thrill of something new that I didn’t consider how many different things I still have to say on the subject. I ran across this hesitation about writing about the same thing over again in my New Essay course last semester (ENG345). We were working on a photo essay, and I expressed concern that the only things I could think to write about were about my family’s background as Bosnian refugees and how this has shaped by identity here. My professor challenged by anxieties by asking, “so you’ve said all you could say on the matter?” I ended up writing about epigenetic inheritance (trauma passed through generations). It offered me a new look at the same topic, a way out of my comfort zone. I’m realizing that the reason I write about my family’s identity and the former Yugoslavia so much is because something still feels so unresolved to me- what are the lessons that need to be learned from war and atrocity, the lessons of resilience and redemption that come from tragedy?

So with that in mind, my plan is to just start writing a thing tonight. I’ll write about war.I’ll write about nature (because I’m not quite ready to abandon that yet). I’ll write about my anxieties. And I’ll write until I understand what it is I am trying to communicate. I think of Ann Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts,” in which she says that something you’ll have pages of material before the bulb lights up in your mind.


Anti-ritual ritual

My problem with rituals is that they don’t clash well with my personality. Rituals are cues that set off a course of events, typically productive events. For instance, we ritualize brushing our teeth or removing make up in order to go to bed. I stay away from these cues because I know rituals would trap me inside of them. If I commit myself to something, I dedicate myself entirely. So if I were to ritualize lighting a candle before starting to write, I would have to do every time. The problem is that it isn’t practical to light a candle every time I go to work on an assignment. Sometimes there are no matches, no lighters, and no candles. My brain would scrape against this reality, unable to comprehend, and so I’d never get to work. Of course, I could come up with a less demanding ritual—perhaps a pre-writing mantra—but I’d lose my mind in routine.

When I think of the writing process that went into my first Gateway assignment, I remember a disjointed creation that took place wherever I could fit in moments to write. On one occasion, I went to a friend’s dorm and worked on my project for six hours, eyes glued to screen, unaware of people flowing in and out of the room. Another writing day kept me in solitude at a desk, a more traditional approach. Yet another time, I found myself writing while standing; my laptop lay on my lofted bed. Each time, I inched closer to a finished product. The only thing that connected these fragments of production was the open letter they produced (my gateway assignment).

All respect to Tharp, but I think I’ve managed to be mostly productive in my own anarchist type of process. What gets me to work is the work itself. It needs to be done. Perhaps subconsciously, gestures like opening my laptop, clicking on the Google Drive icon, creating a new document, viewing Canvas modules, etc. function as mini-rituals. But the trick is not to tie myself to these gestures. Don’t think about them as stimuli, just a pathway to the work. I’d call this my anti-ritual ritual.


Lessons from Kanye

I watched Kanye’s Oxford speech recently.

He was talking about his inspirations and journey throughout his career and at one point he said something like, “We’re all creators, we all have the ability to create.” It got me thinking about the definition of art. Art is so much more than just painting hung up in a gallery. The dictionary defines is as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination” and Kanye West was right. We are all creative thinkers. Just last night at our ePort showcase, no two people had an even remotely similar portfolio even though we all used Wix and had a checklist of requirements to include. This kind of spoke to me. It made me think about how we’re all basically walking bodies of art. No wonder we have fingerprints. That’s how I viewed the ePort: a digital fingerprint, a body of art, a reflection of individuality. 

I’ve never made an ePortfolio before or even used Wix, so I was super excited to do that. It was a weird experience thinking about how I wanted to present myself online; it made me contemplate everything. “Is that font me?” “Are those color schemes reflective of my charming personality?” I included a variety of things on the portfolio besides the required assignments: drawings, a poem I’d written, and pictures of family to go with the “body of art” theme. Here’s the finished work:

On an end note, it’s sad to think that this class flew by! Especially because it was becoming one of my normal routines to go to our USB classroom. The one thing that separates the Gateway course from my other classes is that I wanted to learn. The freedom we were granted with our assignments was addicting. It’s like, when I knew I could create practically anything, I wanted to do good and I wanted to make my projects great. And through that liberation, I learned so much more about writing and communicating in general. I encourage everyone to take the class. I hope it pushes you how it pushed me, and I hope you leave with a better sense your fingerprint.


On the Why Behind the Words


My philosophy professor always said “my splintered finger is more important to me than your broken arm.” She wanted to prove a point that though there is illness, suffering, and death out there, your pain, your tribulations are important simply because they are yours. There will always be people who are worse off and better off, but this unavoidable selfishness that comes with living is the very thing that keeps you alive.

And I think the unquenchable desire of wanting to be heard is what keeps writers writing. 

After reading George Orwell and Didion’s “Why I Write” essays and Andrew Sullivan’s “Why I Blog” article, it’s apparent that writing, like life, is unavoidably selfish. Orwell attributes egoism as a key motivation in writing. Didion beautifully states that “writing is the act of saying I.” And Sullivan brings up a valid point that you end up writing about yourself anyways because you are the single common denominator in your work. I agree with them. If we didn’t want to be heard, our words would only touch the private texture of a diary’s pages. Blogs, newspapers, magazines, social media, and books all exist for the very reason that we want to be heard.

In less than a semester, the minor program forced me to think about who I am and what I want to say through constant self-reflection. It made me realize that my ultimate hope in this program would be to develop a strong voice and sense of  this inescapable “I. The biggest reason being that words matter. Writing platforms’ monumental presence digitally, physically, in careers, on protest posters, etc. shows that not only do we want to be heard, we need to be heard. If words didn’t matter, when Eric Garner said “I Can’t Breathe,” for example, nobody would’ve thought to hashtag it, put it on shirts and signs, and repeat it with their raging voices. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle wouldn’t have prompted the creation of the FDA, and “I Have a Dream” would have meant sleep and starry eyes.

If words can be impactful, affective, influential, inspiring, and all other I words, maybe they can take this cloudy place–where there is suffering and illness and poverty and tragedy and death–and distract it for a little while with light. 

There is a uniform belief in the power and necessity of words. The last motive Orwell gives for writing is political purpose, “the desire to push the world in a certain direction.”  What’s interesting is that the world also pushes back; it pushes writers in a certain direction. Because life is fluid and constantly evolving, the external environment influences the topics being written about all the time. Orwell mentions his literature might have been more descriptive and aesthetically pleasing during a peaceful time. But Orwell lived when Marxism was prominent and so instead came Animal Farm. Didion too lets the places she’s been and people she sees materialize in her mind to guide her inner wordsmith. Blogs, even more so than essays and novels, capture this idea of the world’s influence on the written word. Though essays and novels may feel susceptible to stay current, blogging demands it. Otherwise, your words might stop mattering on a blog. Or like Sullivan put its, “if it stops paddling, it sinks.” 

I am quite possibly the biggest hopeless dreamer or just someone with an inflated appreciation for words, but whatever the platform, writing matters. 

What if you write something that sticks with someone and they’re better for it?






“I”-Portfolio: Lessons from Drafting and Revising

Often, my close friends will pick a shirt off the clothes rack when we’re shopping or send me a song to listen to and say, “This is so you.”  I think once you get to know someone, you begin to see an underlying theme to them. It’s when you see a movie or read a book and think “[Insert name here] would love this.” I can’t really explain this eloquently, but I guess you could call it character. Essentially, an e-portfolio is a showcase of your work, yourself.  I haven’t thought of my e-portfolio too much, but I want future employers and fellow bloggers to open it and get a sense of my character, style, interests, and central beliefs.

Though I haven’t begun brainstorming, Chapter 7 from Writer/Designer outlines a helpful process: Mock up/storyboard–>rough cut–>feedback–>rough draft–>feedback–>final draft. At the core of this process is the idea that all the design and content choices should be guided by a consistent theme, a personality if you will. The rough cut sets the tone by including initial layout and stylistic elements. For instance, a dreamy, warm theme won’t use “Chillers” as a default font.

tumblr_nusy50eZ9y1uaundno1_500Luckily, the e-portfolio will already sample my vested interests through the re-purposing and re-mediation projects (world peace, human corruption, and strong familial values to name a few). But the picture isn’t complete. A full impression may not even be possible, but it’ll come close with the style of the webpage and media on it. I like simplicity so there probably won’t be more than three colors in a scheme, introduction text will be short, and pages will be limited.

Feedback also plays a major role in the process detailed in chapter 7. Essentially feedback is simple: Here is what I am trying to do. Tell me if I have done it. If not, how can I do it? Obviously, having a fresh set of eyes will highlight what’s off in your project. Peers can comment on if something distracts them, doesn’t make sense for the theme, or even grammatical errors. I like to think I’m artsy so I’d want my e-portfolio to be artsy as well. Feedback would let me know what areas accomplish this mood/theme and where I stray from it, for example.

But more importantly, critiquing someone else forces you to analyze WHY something does ortumblr_nuxwo4h30Q1rhsna0o1_500 doesn’t work. Why doesn’t that picture suit that theme? Why are five tabs better than three? Questions like these become lessons in what design choices are not only appropriate but effective. When I get wrapped up in my project, exciting ideas or flowery sentences often distract me from my desired finished product. Feedback keeps me in check.

In short, drafting and revising allows to always come back and reassess the essential elements of purpose, genre, and audience. It’s not enough to plant a seed, you have to know what your specific seed requires to bloom.


Remediating or Re-meditating (So I Don’t Lose My Mind With This Project)

For my repurposing project, I’m writing an open letter to shame war criminals of the Yugoslavian war for losing their humanity in an effort to build up their political status. remediation idea has changed slightly. (It was a double-timeline initially, the top half recounting personal stories from my family and the bottom half showing the political events surrounding the war that occurred at the same time).

There is this constant image in my head of a dark, reflective skyscraper huge enough that touches the clouds. At the very top, in a penthouse suite, a man in a suit sits with his team of people and signs a paper that will give an order for his army to invade/bomb/shoot/massacre x, y, or z. Then I imagine at the very bottom of this building, a city buried beneath rubble and rows of dead bodies in makeshift graves, soldiers shooting civilians, fire, explosions, etc. I just can’t wrap my brain around the fact the people who sign off on these wars or lead the armies are usually sitting comfortably nearby probably enjoying a five course meal. I keep thinking “Who let them (war criminals in the Yugoslavian war in my case) get away with killing so many people and ruining so many other lives?” “How can they just sit there and sign papers and give orders while at that same exact moment they have created someone’s last day on earth?” “These aren’t casualties they are real people with real stories and families and children and wives/husbands.”

With that being said, I think I really wanted to create an anti-war campaign poster that gets the above^ message across. I’m not sure what a “campaign” entails exactly beyond a brand and slogan and poster, but I’d like to make my poster digital and animated if possible. Here is what I envisioned initially and how the timeline comes into play:

The webpage opens with a heading and slogan like “We are Real,” for example. Underneath is a photo reel scrolling horizontally of images of the Yugoslavian war and family photos. Underneath that there are two timelines connected to each-other to make one all encompassing timeline. The top row of the timeline details personal events through text and quotes from interviewees, while the bottom row focuses on political facts, battles, conferences, significant events during the war from a broad perspective. If I was making a printable poster, these features would obviously have to be tweaked to not include animation. 

I realized I didn’t want to make a timeline by itself, but instead use a timeline-esque element to convey the idea of commanders being so far removed from what they are actually in charge of. Like let’s say Alija Izetbegović, former president of Bosnia, was meeting with whoever (this will be researched) to discuss invading the city of Bihać in June of 1994. Well June of 1994, my parents were sleeping under tractors in corn fields because they didn’t have a home anymore since Izetbegovic’s army invaded their city. I think my reasoning behind the timeline was that I can show side by side this cause and effect relationship between what the president decides and the traumatic effect it has on the people who actually experience his decisions. Putting these dates, facts, and pictures next to each other would also hopefully show the distance between those “in charge” and the real citizens. 

The reason I mention making an anti-war campaign, is because I don’t think the timeline itself will convey the entire message. I don’t think it will be clear that I’m criticizing the presidents and war lords of the Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia because timelines are unbiased. They aren’t political attacks. 

In terms of layout, I was inspired by the amazing designs in articles published in the Boston Globe. I encourage everyone to check out their site because the way they incorporate animation is unreal. For example, this clearly has its own web design although its published through the newspaper. I envision this anti-war piece being something animated like the “Chasing Bayla” article. If this isn’t feasible though (and maybe there’s just no use for animation) just a regular poster works too.

I have a few major concerns: What I am I even talking about anymore (just kidding, kind of). First, what is my publishing platform? An online newspaper? Do I even need a publishing platform?  Personally, if I want this piece to say “fuck you” to the war criminals that impoverished my family and killed my relatives and thousands of other people’s families, I think it needs to act alone. 

Blah. That’s all. ROSER 2 (Chip)