Blah (or My Process)

My process for the repurposing assignment is like anything else in my life: disorganized and all over the place.  I alternate between flashes of inspiration and the feeling that I’ve hit yet another dead-end in a maze.

In class I was split between writing a  feature piece, like something published in the The Times, or a personal narrative. Currently, I have this idea to blend the two genres because my running theme is essentially personal vs. politics.  When talking about the politics of the Yugoslavian war, I could take on the removed, researched style; then insert my personal story in between.

I have a vague mental blueprint of how this could work. First, by including dates/time periods, I can parallel the executive or legislative actions occurring in the Yugoslavian government with something personal that was happening at the same time. For example, if my family escaped to the refugee camps in the summer of 1996, I can write about that experience as well as what was happening in the government while they were running. However, I’m not sure how to combine these two different bodies of writing in a clever, intertwining way. Are writers even allowed to have multiple voices?

This project will require a ton of research. To start, I think it would be best to find out what was happening each month and year during the war and create a timeline. Then, move on to interviewing family, friends, and other war veterans and compile a similar timeline.

I’d like to use pictures from my old photo albums throughout the piece to incorporate the visual aspect of multimodality. In the Pulitzer Prize feature writings, I noticed the authors post a large attention-grabbing picture before their passage and then scatter pictures with captions throughout. But I’d like to do more with the pictures, like making a virtual photo album or make them more interactive. I haven’t thought about these aspects yet at all.

In short, I kind of feel like that mouse in Who Moved My Cheese that kept running around until he found cheese.

Dad, second from the right, a couple years before going off to fight on the front line.
Dad, second from the right, a couple years before going off to fight.

Writing a la Casanova

At some point, you’ve probably heard about Giovanni Giacomo Casanova. Long story short, he was the original ladies man and/or pimp and/or womanizer circa the 1700’s. What made Casanova the ultimate charmer was actually his great analytical skills. He was able to familiarize himself with a woman’s interests, dislikes, and desires. Through “deductive reasoning” Casanova could then transform himself into an array of occupations or flamboyant characters to fulfill whatever craving (romance, adventure, mystery, etc.) the women lacked in their lives.

Personally, I prefer Heath Ledger’s movie version.

I think of our role as writers like charmers. To charm your audience, it’s absolutely crucial to know who you’re writing for. According to Casanova’s memoirs, his umbrella of occupations included being a playwright, dancer, businessman, lawyer, military officer, diplomat, mathematician, philosopher, spy, and–perhaps most accurate–a conman. “Craft of Research” talks about fitting a particular role as a writer to keep your audience engaged. We must be Casanovas in this way: analyze what our audience expects of us, what we think their role is, and mold ourselves accordingly.

Unlike Casanova, though, it’s important we’re not playing our readers. Authenticity is key here. I wouldn’t publish a research paper on aspartame’s effects in the brain cells of mice because I don’t know what a good research paper looks like, sounds like, or what information the audience (probably other researchers) expects me to include. There are tons of ways to be authentic. If you’re publishing a political essay, avoid the adjective “stupid.”  If you’re writing for a magazine, be colorful, add pictures. If you’re being funny, make sure your audience has a sense of humor. I think a major way that all authors can establish authenticity is to have legitimate evidence and cite where it came from. No one wants to read any more of a paper if they discover a sketchy piece of information. The writer has essentially failed to charm the reader.

But, is a “charming, authentic writer” an oxymoron? Admittedly, I kind of hate the idea tailoring who I am to meet the expectations of others. When it comes to writing, though, it kind of makes sense why it works. Unless you don’t care if your work ever gets seen, the unfortunate truth is that if we were to write how we wanted to, where wanted to, whenever we wanted to, we’d probably be less authentic than if we considered what our audience wants to hear. I’d never expect Edward Cullen (100+ year old vampire from Twilight saga) to say “bro” for example, even if that was Stephanie Meyer’s favorite word to write. The moral of the story is, if we want to connect to our readers, we have a responsibility to charm them.

 

 

 

Crap, Now Everything is a Multimodal Text

 

freedom

Freedom isn’t free? 

What’s important about this text–whether you interpret it to be an attack on capitalism, America’s billions of exploits, or whatever– is that the message wouldn’t be understood if it was just the single sentence, only the linguistic mode. At least, I would be asking myself what the writer meant by “Freedom isn’t free.” But whoever created it (props to you), utilized the visual mode by including a widely remarked symbol of freedom, the American flag, to denote he or she is talking about the U.S. The lack of red, white, and blue color also contributes to the absence of patriotism. We can assume he/she isn’t conveying a positive message about Uncle Sam. Flipping the flag vertically (spatial mode) and turning it into a barcode screams money. Interestingly, I think the gestural mode hones the message in. The text mimics the scanning motion of a barcode, but more slow and deliberate than usual giving the whole thing a haunting mood. You can’t help but wonder what the price for freedom is.


california drought

California Drought 2k15

There’s a ton of statistical evidence explaining how drought conditions in California have worsened in the past years. None of that data is probably as compelling or memorable as this text. The visual and spatial modes of writing are crucial here in deepening the message. In two seconds, the diagram at the top shows the drought progression for three years. Current California is covered in red, a color associated with blood, anger, and stopping at traffic lights, to stand out. The visual not only communicates statistics quickly, but also adds the drama.Nothing shows change more clearly than before and after photos. After the reader sees how bad things have become in general California, his eyes are guided to three specific pictures of locations. Incorporating the spatial mode, the before graphics are all in one column and the after’s in an opposite one. Placing the pictures in close proximity contrasts the collectively blue side with the brown, dry land on the right. We can all agree that this type of text does the job way better than an annual report on weather conditions in Cali.

 

 


 

Nike Women Better for It Commericial

This commercial was the only thing I collected that incorporates all five modes. The aural mode is creatively included as chatter inside the women’s heads while the visual mode shows their exterior world of going to the gym or taking a yoga class. It adds an element of reality to the commercial, making it clear the target audience is women because a large majority of us can relate to what we hear. The visual mode is the strongest here because it is a commercial, but the linguistic and gestural mode are also incorporated in the end to show that the commercial is a. talking about Nike and b. urging you to click on the link and get started. Placing the link at the very center of the page makes it jump out at you in a way you’re more susceptible to click on it.


 

Everything I look at now becomes a multimodal text. I gathered up business cards from a local tattoo shop, a random code of conduct, a flyer for the Dayton Accords Symposium, my water bottle, even my room key. Usually everything I found incorporates every mode except the aural one. The texts that are most similar–business cards, flyers, the freedom gif, and the drought diagram all share a common goal of selling you something, whether that something is an idea or a product. For all of these, pictures played a big role, overshadowing the words. The texts were all also designed for you too look at going top to bottom. The two most contrasting texts were the Nike commercial and the code of conduct, which isn’t surprising since they have two very different aims. Commercials are advertisements while codes of conduct don’t have to sell you anything. They come after the fact. You’ve already been sold.  While the Nike commercial utilizes all five modes to make the consumer’s experience more colorful, the code of conduct only uses linguistic and spatial. If you were to read it, you would notice things blocked off into sections and further into bulleted points.

I find that commercials or infomercials would all generally use all the modes because they have similar aims. It’s all about the person viewing it. Texts that serve a “duller” purpose like scientific journals or contracts don’t care about the reader, they just care about getting their information across clearly.

 

Show not Tell

I’ve always thought of poetry as writing on steroids. I think nothing else fits that definition like E.E. Cumming’s poem, anyone lived in a pretty how town. Cumming’s has always been one to completely disregard rules, but in this poem, he puts up a big, metaphoric middle finger to grammar. Only one word in this entire poem is capitalized, there are two periods on seemingly random lines, pronouns are characters, verbs are used as nouns. The whole thing is a mess:

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn’t he danced his did.

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone’s any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

When I read the assignment, I was hesitant to even use this poem because truthfully, I probably still don’t know what Cummings is talking about.  Nonetheless, I do consider it beyond artistically and intellectually engaging. Essentially, the poem is a love story traced throughout the life cycle of its two characters: a simple, mediocre man named “anyone,” and a woman named “no one,” who loves him. The poem is intended to highlight, perhaps criticize, the idea of being generic and going through the motions of life. Cummings does this in a genius way. First, he names his characters pronouns so their identities are infinite. In stanza five, for example, “someones married their everyones” is read like it includes all the people in the world.   The pronouns also make a play on words. In the stanza below, “cared for anyone not at all” could be read literally, like the men and women don’t care about others. This double meaning is at the core of what makes Cummings so intellectually engaging. He’s able to prove his argument in multiple ways, at the same exact time.

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain


Second, he utilizes imagery to signify the passage of time without even telling you time is passing. Each stanza includes an element of time. Above, “sun moon stars rain” show day and night. An even more compelling example of time is the line “when by now and tree by leaf” in stanza four. The words “when” and “now” are both points of time. The image of a tree and leaf reiterates the life cycle. Cummings description of time is incredible and completely out of the box.

Lastly, the tone of the poem is like a giant sigh. The love story completes its cycle in stanza seven: “one day anyone died i guess” (7.1). Cummings could’ve ended it so many ways. Adding “I guess” to anyone’s death makes it insignificant because people typically aren’t non-chalant towards something as heavy as death and generic because death is all too common.

There are so many more things that could be said, admired, or analyzed about this poem. Cummings ability to distort language but have it make sense, show time–a shapeless, faceless phenomeon–passing on paper, and have everything convey a unifying message make this poem unlike anything I’ve ever read.

Personally, I’m too chicken to shun the rules of grammar. I like structure. So I wouldn’t exactly want to emulate Cummings. One writer comes to mind whom I would like to emulate. She also happens to be a poet. Sylvia Plath’s, The Bell Jaris one of my favorite books. To keep it short, I admire Plath for her ability to describe anything in a way that makes you “get” it. The Bell Jar, particularly, depicts losing your mind like it makes sense. Instead of saying Esther’s sad, for example, Plath writes, “I didn’t know why I was going to cry, but I knew that if anybody spoke to me or looked at me too closely the tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of the throat and I’d cry for a week.” This is a perfect example of showing the reader instead of telling. Whether its Cummings or Plath, I think the ability to convey your message by painting a picture in the reader’s head is key to any good writing.

In closing, I still have no clue why “Women” is the only word E.E Cummings capitalized.

 

Writing: The Drug to Discover Your Unthought Thoughts

According to Lynn Hunt, picking up a pen is crucial to writing even if you don’t know what you are writing about. After reading her article, I look at the Minor in Writing program as a gum-ball machine that takes in students and spits out a multitude of writers, different but all colorful. Writing over and over and over again (not just studying HOW to write but concretely putting words on paper) forces us to grow out of three-point theses and five paragraph formats. We have the potential to discover our own voices, styles, and preferred genres instead of writing thirty versions of the same prompt. I love Hunt’s point that when you write a thought “you think of something you did not know you could or would think.” That’s where the growth happens. That’s where you discover who you are. That’s what distinguishes orange gum-balls from blue ones. Like any other skill, writing takes practice and the minor offers us a chance to do just that through molding an entire body of work in the form of an ePortfolio.

Hunt also challenges us to be authentic. In other words, if your writing sucks you’re probably trying to write like someone else. A major goal I have this year is to discover who I want to be as a writer and stay true to that person. On many accounts, I’ve tried to emulate great authors because I believed if their writing is good, I should probably write like them. But writing is not a one-size fits all. As Hunt points out, mistakes comes from not discovering what YOU think, what your beliefs are. On my quest for authenticity, I aim for creativity as well. With a ton of platforms and mediums to communicate on, writing is a practically limitless convention (as long as we abide by the rules of grammar, kind of). Tweeting, blogging, journaling, websites, text messages, emails, ink pens, etc all give us the chance to think outside the box and communicate our message differently. In this program, I hope to utilize these tools to create something meaningful beyond an MLA formatted essay.

In short, writing fosters identity. It’s a skill that must be relentlessly worked towards by simply just writing. But to be able to create something that is truly your own proves incredibly satisfying in the end.