It’s the Final Countdown

I’m done. I have to repeat that. I’m done with my Capstone Portfolio and my Capstone Project. I have no more time to give. Whatever minor flaws nag my perfectionist soul, do not diminish the holistic quality of either my portfolio or my project.

Yet, for some reason, “The Final Countdown” is stuck in my head. It’s hard to believe that with this my minor in writing will be over. In the minor in writing, we talk so much about reflection. In my application essay for the minor, I wrote I wanted to write faster and be a more confident writer. I am more confident. The fact that I’m not on my portfolio now going over every detail is a testament to that. However, I still feel some trepidation over my work. Will the reviewer get it? Will the risks I took pay off?

If nothing else, I’m glad the course has been gamified. No matter what I did the work and by doing a podcast on media, I took risks. Now I can rest assured that my grade is done, my work is done- but I don’t feel done.

That’s the other thing the minor in writing taught me. A piece of work is never done. Coming back to a piece years later can yield great results since you’ve distanced yourself. So I’m not really done with this work I’m just done for now. More than that, I’m not really done writing, or reflecting on my writing, or growing as a writer, even though I am done with the minor in writing. Perhaps that’s why I don’t feel done. I will never be done. So it’s the Final Countdown only for today.


Technology . . .

“I just don’t want my capstone podcast project to sound homemade,” I say, sitting in one of the fancy media rooms at the Duderstadt and talking with a peer media consultant about “amplifying” and “wav files.”

“What do you mean?”

“Like on a scale of bagels covered with cheese and ragu to a pizza lovely crafted by Italian immigrants- I want it to be Digourno. It can be different than professional but I still want it to be good.”

He laughs.

“No matter what you’re going to have to teach yourself some about audio recording- levels etc. And vocal performance too probably”

That’s the moment I realize that I may have bitten off more of this pizza than I can chew. In the Writing Minor, we like to talk about how we write, why we write, what we right. Yet with this podcast, I’m having to contend with technology and with performance. In fact, how I write it may be affected by these programs and how they work.

I am not a Luddite. I have been having a passionate love affair with Photoshop for the past three years, designing covers and booklets and posters. However, relearning a complex program, learning enough so I can make it sound professional, is that too high a goal?

I just want to do my ideas justice. I want to do any listeners justice. I don’t want them to be distracted from my content because of a voice crackle.

I also want to be realistic about my abilities. I want to be realistic about the time I have left as my senior comes to a close with a bang of work and a whimper from me. I also don’t want to engage the obsessive perfectionist qualities of my personality. The part of me that will tweak-tweak-tweak at Photoshop.

I want to do the best I can with my time and abilities, but will that be enough?

This American Life by Ira Glass has an episode called “Fiasco!” where he sayings that when everyone reaches just beyond their grasp that’s when greatness can occur.

I’ll settle for Digourno pizza.

What is Literary?

I have never imagined, even when I write the occasional creative piece, that I was being “literary”. It’s one of those loaded words like “cultured”.  You use the word literary to separate high from low, the baby from the bath water, the misplaced wedding ring from the trash.  I know what its use. What does it really mean, though? I’m in Xylem Literary Magazine and we’re opening up our submissions to pretty much anything that can put into print or unto a CD.  How do you have a literary song? How do you take a quality from one medium and transfer it to another.

I’m also contemplating this question because I have to make a power point with the same “scholarly” quality as an 8 page research paper. This is happening to me more and more often, when I had to take the “journalistic” quality of an article in Writing 200 and apply it to a podcast. For Writing 300, we’re making a conference website and looking at how we can take the qualities from our presentations and our papers and apply them to a google site.

I’m not writing this because I have a good answer. I think part of it is thinking about the purpose- why does the song have to be literary? Because Xylem wants work with substance. Why does the power point have to be scholarly? Because the professor wants to know that I understand the material. Often times we think contextually like this without even realizing it, but it’s really helpful for me when I sit back and do intentionally. When I take a step back from all my work and reflect on all its purposes other than “ruining my GPA” and “crippling my social life”, I can focus better.  And now to begin that power point.

Good luck everybody on final exams!


Hopefully it’s not an E-portfolio but an A-portfolio

On my post for my ”Reflection” Blog Theme, I said I couldn’t reflect because I was too close to my work. (It apparently has had no effect on my pun skills). Alas, I feel the same way about about my E-portfolio but I will try. For all my lovely Cohorts I will try.

For me, I did a lot of the work in early April, which I am just patting myself on the back for. For that reason, I’ve been mostly working on citations and linking. These are important parts of the reader’s experience but as a writer, I want to write. I liked writing like I did in early April, making quirky intros with George R.R Martin, the inscrutable troll, and somehow linking them to the writing process.

My e-portfolio is all about how we develop as writers, through exploring different genres and honing certain characteristics all writers have. I use a tree metaphor like in the title: “Learn to Write Like a Tree Grows.” I liked this because for the getgo I wanted a theme that could be reflected in my actual presentation.

As for my presentation, I have an explanation of a good way to view the pages, or “How to Use This Site” widget in the taskbar. I don’t know if I’m not giving you guys enough credit but I thought better safe than sorry. I also wrote posts as I was making the portfolio as a meta-kind of thing. There’s a huge gap, which is when I did a lot of work on my e-port which is ironic but I think they’re good Captain’s Log like Andrew Sullivan says.  Check those out to, if you visit my site and please read the “Welcome” page all will be explained there.

As for the future?  The thing about writing anything is that it’s never over. People are always coming up with new editions, with new intros, new insights. On the other hand, I am always finding tiny typos that I always just read over the first time that need to be changed. When I approach this in the Winter of 2014, I have no idea what place I’ll be as a person or as a writer (a lot can happen in two years! ) , but it will be nice to take a look at my thought processes and writing skills, even if it’s just to laugh at my naiveté. Then, I can take what I’ve learned about writing, and making portfolios and start the process all over again.

Best of luck for the summer everybody! I can’t wait to look at your work!

Here’s a link to my portfolio.

Reflections (Or Lack Thereof)

In a little more than two weeks, we will be turning in our e-portfolios. Excuse me while I run around my dorm room in a state of panic.

This is not a mood conducive for much reflection beyond: Where did all the time go? What have I been doing with my life?  Why wasn’t I working on my e-portfolio in February? How am I going to make it through the next few weeks? Add a few more swear words to those questions, the sound track to Inception, the expression on the captain’s face when he realizes the Titanic is sinking and you have my mind state right now.

Still, I am not completely incapable of reflection. This semester has been the semester of little papers. Every week I’ve had around two 1-2 page papers that basically functioned as “Did you do the reading?” and “Can you think for yourself [but not too much; we don’t want to contradict the professor] ?” checks. I’ve only had to do short pieces at a time.  We’ve proceeded so incrementally with our projects for Writing 200,  that I’ve rarely had to sit down and work on a single essay for a long period of time (by long period I mean six hour- the paper is due tomorrow- kind of binge writing) as I’ve done in the past. Instead, I’ve worked bit by bit. I’m not sure which is better for my “process” if you will. I think there’s merit in sinking it to your writing, and really focusing and developing your ideas. At the same time, bit by bit allows for more distance and reflection. It puts you more into a reader’s mind frame. A writer knows what they’re trying to say and why they’ve made their writing choices. Often it is hard for writers to see what they’re actually writing and the effects of their choices without bias. Working on something bit by bit allows you to take breaks and forget what you’ve written so you can see it more like a reader. This can make it easier to spot problems and fix them.  However, I feel like some of my best ideas come from immersing myself in the topic. One thought leads to another which leads to another and so on, until you have that moment of inspiration.  To be completely, honest, it isn’t really much of my choice about which style I use. Most of the time, it’s determined by the due date.

Weirdly enough, what I really remember helping my process this semester is not anything philosophical. Getting out of my dorm room seems to be the secret for getting writing done. That and Caramel Frappuccinos.  This is supposedly something I learned freshmen year. Yet, I still think that I’m past that and I can get work done in my room. Mostly because I am to lazy to go trolling around for Central Campus for an empty table and wifi.  Getting out of my dorm room to write helps because being around people helps me stay focused. Or at least makes me feel ashamed when I open my netflix. The other thing that has helped my writing is keeping a notepad handy while on my lap top. For some reason, physically writing down my main points on paper and then writing the full essay on my laptop has been helpful.  That and making a reverse outline. Basically, you write whatever you like and find the point of it all, and then compare it to the points you intended to convey. If that makes any sense.

Ultimately, I think I’m too in the thick of it to give the best reflection possible. I have a crazy amount of writing to do in the upcoming weeks:  a script in Japanese, revisions on three essays (Re-purposing an Argument, Re-mediating and Argument, and Essay 4), all the writing necessary for my e-portfolio site, a 12-13 page paper on museums and a few short essays.  I think I’m just going to not think about it too much and dive right in, like this guy: 


How I Write and How I Speak

Today, I was having some trouble explaining some idea from my re-purposed argument and my potential podcast.  I wanted just to say “read what I wrote!” Instead, I blubbered.  Perhaps that was a lesson for me though.  Podcasts are supposed to be spoken. So they have to be written as people speak.  Some of  parts can’t even be written; mainly the interview. I can write my questions but I can’t predict what the other person will say.  However, in a way that’s easier. I can adlib (hopefully).  Writing a natural-sounding script is harder than I thought and I thought it would be hard to begin with.  I had to cut out the wordiness that bloats up my writing and transform all my elaborate clauses into simple active sentences.   In the end, I think it’s been good for me.  If you can’t make it simple, you don’t understand it; I have no idea what quote I just distorted there.  Moreover, it’s easier for other people to understand it, if you make it simple. It should be easy then, right?

Writing and speaking are the transference of thought into sentences and words. When I think, unless I’m writing, I usually don’t think in full sentences. I admit, it’s a pretty short interval between when I think about what I’m going to say and what I says. Sometimes there is no real thought at all, like when I stubbed my toe this morning.  So how do we think when we write? Is it a different process than when we think before speaking? For one, when you write on a page you can review what you’re saying as you go. You can’t do that when speaking. Two, there is that time delay between when you write something and when it is “out there”, not the case with speaking. This gives you time to revise. Three, when you speak you usually can interact directly with your audience. You can feed off them. You can change what you’re saying depending on their reaction. When you write, you can imagine your audience or try to create them. However, you’re still fairly solitary. When writing, your audience is only in your head.  You can change your whole piece in revisions but you can’t get a sentence by sentence reaction. You can’t see what they want but only what you think they want. Podcasts are strange. They are a forum for speaking without the benefit of an audience to react to. There is the script which can be revised and worked, which is one benefit. Making a podcast is a lot like writing, even though the medium is the human voice.   A good podcast though is as accessible as a conversation.  NP says it should be like you’re speaking directly to your listeners, rather than vocalizing your writing. So that’s the challenge. Podcasts are writing as you speak, without some of the benefits and drawbacks of speech.  The weird thing is even though radio simplifies the construction of sentences (compared to writing), it is still popular with all different kinds of people. It’s for people who love to read and people who hate to read.

So anyone think of something I missed? Any more notable differences between speaking and writing? Any ways that we speak different than when we write? What positives characteristics can we take from speaking and apply to our writing? What things that we do in our speech should we avoid? Are good writers better speakers, and vice versa?  See, this is part of the issue with writing. The writer is often left with lots of questions that a speaker can just ask. Before the internet, it was difficult to get a direct response. Now, it’s far more possible.

Reading Speaking Writing


When Do You Let Go?

Am I the only one whose heart speeds up whenever my cursor nears the submit button? In the five minutes before, that moment I can be perfectly calm, confident, even, that my paper is finished or at least sure that there’s nothing more that I can do. Yet, facing the prospect of finally submitting my piece, I feel a burst of panic.  It is then that I question almost every aspect of my paper and every choice I made, searching for weaknesses and inevitably finding or inventing them; I find myself thinking if only I just had a little more time. I could rewrite my entire paper or at least reread it once more to make sure there aren’t any typos. I could make it perfect.

This is of course delusional thinking; there is no such thing as a perfect paper. Writing isn’t like math, where there is a single answer. There are many answers, which can all be radically different but still excellent. There are many methods, which all can create a great result; some are more successful than others, sitting in a quiet room, making an outline, following a fluid structure of claim, evidence and interpretation, but I’m sure that there is someone who actually succeeds in writing beautiful, argumentative papers without any planning while watching television, texting, and eating chips. I just know that person is not me. Lord knows, I’ve tried to be that person.

So, it’s a matter of writing a good enough paper, one where you’re confident enough to press that submit button and let go. I have a philosophy that at a certain point, I can only make small changes that don’t really make a difference or I can completely gut my paper and rewrite it, undoing every choice I made. That is the point I turn it in. I suppose it’s about commitment to my writing and confidence in my skills. Yet, I still wonder, what if I made those big changes? What if the changes I think are small, would actually make a difference?  At that point, however, those huge changes would be half-baked, without enough time to execute them. As for the small changes, I grow weary of reading my own writing.

To be honest, I don’t have any conclusion on this issue. I know other people struggle with not having enough time and go straight up to the deadline.  Other people confidently click that button. Sometimes it’s not whether or not you’re confident with an essay but whether or not you have five other things to do. Yet, I think or at least hope (selfishly) that I am not the only one who doesn’t know when to let go of an essay. How do you guys know when you’re done with an essay or other work and it’s time to turn it in?

Weaponized Writing

I have a busy week ahead of me so I’m doing this blog post early (this is meant to be the one for Wednesday the 22; yes my schedule is that crazy). Also I saw something that inspired me. That something was this:

Now, some of you might wonder why museums are relevant to writing and might even (rightly) accuse me of trying to combine coursework for two classes to create less work. The least charitable among you might think “WTF, cartoon cats?” To this imaginary quarrelsome audience, I would respond that it is not about the “what” but the “how.” I’ve written at least forty pages on museums yet somehow in a five minute space of time, two cartoon cats have upstaged me. This is the power of satire. Saying things without saying them.  Subversion through imitation. Using that which is cute and soft to portray some hard and sharp insights. Professors often talk about how form should match content but in this case, by creating a juxtaposition between form and content, the content becomes more powerful in some ways. A kitten criticizing public institutions somehow exposes the ridiculousness of these institutions, which like to portray themselves as august and authoritative, yet the criticisms are not ridiculous. They are enough to make many museum professionals sweat, bluster or go silent.

This brings me to an aspect of writing which we touched on a bit with Orwell but never fully developed. Writing as a means of social change and satire as a means of social change. Orwell has been perfectly serious and for the most part, in our writing for this class, although humor has doubtlessly been employed, satire has been left in the dugout. Writing as social change brings about awareness and is best when it uses the kind of persuasion we find in other kinds of writing; appeals to reason as in Malcolm Gladwell’s work, and appeals to emotion like that of Thomas Paine (the guy who wrote “Common Sense”).  Satire in my mind can be potent as a tool for social change in that it makes you aware by exposing how unaware you were before. It takes societal notions like “museums house valuable objects”, which many buy into and flips them on their head, “museums make their objects valuable.”  I make it sound boring by talking about it this way. The key aspect to satire is what makes it not boring; it’s wit. The way it turns things on their heads. For example, these lines are some of the wittiest, though they are probably only funny to me as a Museum Studies Minor:

“Chances are the museum people who decide what gets to be put in a museum probably don’t have anything in common with you.”

“Inside the objects are usually lined up against blank walls; blank walls are good so that the visitors won’t have to deal with so much context or history .”

“Actually, at first I though that there must be some kind of law against having poor people on a museum’s Board of Trustees.  But then later, I found out that actually there isn’t any law like this. This is just the way they like to do it.”

“It’s like that because no matter how much museum people try to copy reality it’s never going to come out right but then all the museum visitors say this is the actual Pinky [an object on exhibition]. This is very educational.”

A hallmark of satire is using wit as a weapon. When I first read this phrase, most likely in a high school lit book, I didn’t question it. But now I have to wonder who this weapon is aimed at. In the case of this video, which is obviously scripted and perhaps based off of some academic paper, the weapon of wit seems to be aimed not only at museums but at the viewer who buys into them without thinking. People often write to persuade people of something, and this is persuasive, at least to me, but this showed me that people also write to challenge the reader, to challenge society. The relationship between reader and writer can intentionally not be a friendly, chummy one or an authoritative relationship. It can be deliberately advesarial.  instead of appealing to someone’s world view to persuade them (as is often what seems to be meant when we say we’re “writing for an audience”), satire like this video rocks people’s world view.

Here is a link to their website FAQ if you’re interested:

Write Like Nobody’s Reading?

First of all, I thought both writers were really engaging and I enjoyed listening to them to speak about writing. It made me want to go home and write. Instead, I went out to dinner and returned to my room to write this essay, fat and happy without a single memory of what I originally intended to write about in this blog post. So I’ll let the words flow. See what happens.  Hopefully not this:

One of the most notable parts of the night for me was hearing Melanie Pugh talk about how she had to stop thinking about herself as a writer in order to start writing. The word “writer” carried connotations of being published, and of serving an audience. Moreover, it implied a certain quality of writing. Only by putting aside thoughts of an audience and of achieving excellence, could she begin to write; or at least that’s how I interpreted her words. I have to heartily agree with everything she said. Who has ever sat down to write, thought “I am going to be so amazing and write the most amazing thing,” and actually managed to write? For me, in order to write, I have to let go of the medium, of writing itself. At least at first, I have to focus on my topic, arguments and my evidence. Once those are down, I can take a step back and look at how my ideas are packaged

Thinking of yourself as a writer carries another preconception, which I think hinders writing.  This kind of thinking: “I am a writer; therefore I am published. I am published; I become a writer) .” I find it problematic.  It makes one focus too much on an audience. You’re probably thinking “What? There is such a thing as focusing too much on an audience? Isn’t one of the main things we’re focusing on in this class how to shape our writing to appeal/target an audience?” Or maybe not. You might be thinking about what you had for lunch. Anyways, writing for an audience is all well in good. Professional writers have to keep in mind their audience.  Yet blatant appeals to an audience without the substance of a strong mind and a strong topic can lead to superficial, crowd-pandering articles, that don’t have a vision of their own.  The kind of writing I imagine this person to create:

Essentially the kind of person who sees writing as a vehicle, not for ideas but for their own ego; they’re the kind of people who don’t understand that most writers don’t actually make that much money.

Another peril is that focusing to much on getting published and getting an audience is that it can lead to writers being unable to write as they lose sight of their own ideas in favor of what they think an imaginary body of people will like.  Yet sometimes writing to a specific audience can be useful; many books have  been made up for letters, not intended for the public  but to a sibling, spouse or close friend. For that reason they have a certain intimacy. But I digress.  I think of writing as this deeply personal thing, even if I’m writing something that is not necessarily focused on me and my life.  The writer’s hand cannot be strained or filtered out of a piece like dirty water out of a dish rag, it’s intrinsic to how the piece was created, even if its merely choices about structure rather than opinion. Sometimes it’s more than that though:

So can you know someone by reading their writing? Would it have to be a particular genre of writing such as journal or poetry? Or is it a particular kind of writing; it is said that bad writing says more about the writer than the subject. Do writers come off differently in their writing than they do in real life? Why might that be? Is it impossible to know someone through writing because the writing can’t talk back? Or is it that complete lack of direct action between the reader and the writer, that exposes the writer’s true essence because s/he can’t shape their writing for an individual stranger? Can you get a sense of a writer from their readers?



Blogging in the Now

Unlike Andrew Sullivan, there are no readers banging down my metaphorical door for posts or flooding my inbox in hope for a quick update. Instead, I have due dates. Nonetheless I would disagree with Sullivan calling blogging the “spontaneous expression of instant thought.” I say this because the word “spontaneous” implies a certain amount of unselfconsciousness, which I think for most writers, when they know they have an audience, is next to impossible. However, I do agree that “we blog now.” The emphasis on the “now” is that it is does not have the benefit of hindsight, which is crucial to recognizing patterns and appreciating the full range of data.  My views will change. Those stages will be captured by my blogging like a ship’s log as Sullivan writes. I will one day look back at my blogs and think “I really wrote that?” either positively or negatively. Like a ship’s log, it records the journey rather than the final destination. I’m lucky then, that I don’t have Andrew Sullivan’s large following, critiquing and challenging me. This way, I can be less self conscious than I would be otherwise, more honest and sheltered. However, in the same way, it’s a shame (not that my blogging is worthy of such attention) because such scrutiny is definitely an opportunity for growth.

However, blogging isn’t entirely about writing. People don’t necessarily blog because they write. People write without blogging. Blogging is also about exposure. It’s about sending ideas out into the universe and hoping that somehow, someway, the universe will respond back. As such, one must catch the universe’s attention or at least a small planetary system’s. This can be done by attaching oneself to a larger body (linking to a popular blog.) The goal is to attract one’s own little asteroids and planets so that the universe will be more likely to respond. Did I stretch that metaphor too far? If you’ll excuse yet more figurative language, I suppose blogging is kind of like light; one definition, one model, is not enough to describe what it does. Sullivan’s “walking on a trapeze” and “ship’s log” are also highly useful in understanding what blogging can be. There’s a sort of fearlessness in making your thoughts public and exposing yourself and the same time there’s a reflective nature in seeing what you think without much time for reflection, once you’ve reached a certain critical mass of work. As such, my thoughts about blogging are the similar to my blogging itself, transitional and ad hoc.

I tried finding a funny video of Andrew Sullivan to lighten up this pretty cerebral, serious post but all of them are very trigger happy (meaning political). He is a rather angry bald man. If you’re interested in him more as a human being, see: Andrew Sullivan on Sarah Palin