A Total Joan Didion Moment…

Since school has picked up like crazy, I decided to wake up early today and study. I went Brueggers and ordered the seasonal baked apple bagel and went upstairs to get to work. This is when I had a total Joan Didion moment — I looked out the window and saw dozens of students with multi-colored backpacks walking to the Diag, the warm fall toned leaves falling off the trees, and the brick buildings of the State Street stores. While I should have been focusing on Osmotic Pressure for Physical Chemistry, I found myself narrating a story in my head about the typical day of a U of M student. All these descriptive words came to mind about the scene I was watching down below and then I realized, this is the type of moment that Joan Didion was describing in her essay “Why I Write.” I’m fairly sure I’ve mentally described detailed scenes of my surroundings before, but this was the first time that I have ever consciously noticed!

Repurposing…

So far, this assignment has been extremely challenging. I never realized how hard it is to go back to an old piece of writing and totally repurpose it. This assignment required me to think about the paper’s original purpose, as well as come up with a totally new one for a new audience. The original paper is a 12 page paper about Female Genital Cutting (FGC). It describes the procedure in detail, explains why it is a human rights violation, compares it to Chinese foot binding, and ends with a discussion of how to end FGC. The purpose of this paper was to say that FGC is wrong and must be stopped. I put more emphasis on why it is wrong than I did on how to stop it.

For the repurposing, I am doing the opposite. I am going to try to put more emphasis on coming up with a model to end FGC and less emphasis on why it is wrong. The format I have chosen is a policy memo that is being sent to two doctors at the World Health Organization (WHO). I’ve been following the Ford School of Public Policy memo guidelines and so far, it has been a challenge figuring out what language and tone to use. I decided that it should be formal yet personal. Formal in the sense that it is an issue and idea I am trying to bring to the World Health Organization’s attention and personal because I’m writing about my own opinions and how I can help the WHO end FGC. I plan on including pictures and diagrams, but I am not sure how to cite these in a memo.

Repurposing my paper into a memo format is extremely relevant to my career aspirations. I hope to work for the WHO whether as a summer internship or for a professional career and I also plan to focus on the health of women and children. No matter what my career is, I hope to have the opportunity to express my ideas and research in writing and the style of that writing will probably resemble a memo.

Blogging Activity

All of my blogs, with the exception of one, seem to contain “writing” or “blog” in the title. I remember that most of these blogs took a long time to write; yet they’re all easy to read and seem shorter than I remember. The first six blogs show my inspiration and passion with writing, as well as a desire to explore my development as a writer. My blogs show that I am interested in writing for a political purpose and writing truthfully.
I really like the comments my group members gave me on my posts. They’re all very personal and honest and some members commented about how my blog helped them further understand my paper. My blog group members kept my paper ideas in mind while reading my posts, which is extremely valuable and shows the strength of peer groups in a writing class. In a sense, my blogs served as reflections for my papers. My latest blog post, “Torn,” lacks the inspiration and zest that the previous posts contained. It’s as if my blog represents my mood and progression with writing.

Torn

I’ve been trying to decide what I want to write about for my second paper.  It seems really hard to repurpose an extremely academic paper!  I’m trying to decide between writing a column for a women’s health magazine about Female Genital Operations and ways to advocate for its eradication or I could write a letter to the World Health Organization urging them to put it on their 2o12 agenda.  If I write the letter, I could write from the perspective of an American college student volunteering with women in Somalia or I could write it from the perspective of a young girl.  I just don’t know what/how to write this paper, so I’m struggling with my second draft.  I think the writing process will get easier when I decide on a concrete idea.

Comparing Two Food Blogs

Charlie and Einstein

 

This week for my blogpost, I am comparing two food related bogs to each other.  This is the first time in my life that I am adding images into a blogpost, so bare with me!
The first blog is called “Three to One” and is the account of a self-proclaimed “Brooklyn-based foodie,” Dimity Jones.  Her blog is extremely personal and is full of pictures of her friend’s daughter, Charlie and Einstein the cat.  Jones’s blog is elegant and combines bright images with dark green headings, small black text, and plenty of white space.  The pictures all seem extremely personal and often show the steps of preparing the food, not just the dish itself.

 

Madeleine cookies
This picture is one example of many pictures that I believe are unique to Jones’s style.  She includes a plethora of pictures showing the actual process of preparing beautiful dishes, which makes them seem more attainable to the public and not as “perfect” as the typical food blog.  Normally, food blogs show the finished product, perfectly plated in an aesthetic style only a Top Chef or professional foodie could create.  While Jones’s food looks beautiful, the slightly incomplete element of the pictures makes her recipes conceptually more accessible to the average reader.
In comparison, Lottie+Doof, another city-based food blog, shows more images of the specific ingredients incorporated into her recipes.  These pictures are completely centered around the dishes and their components, rather than people.  Although the ingredients are beautiful and add a seasonally fresh aspect to the website, I almost prefer the relatively messy pictures of Charlie and Einstein eating breakfast.  Seeing the chaotic Brooklyn kitchen of Dimity Jones is more appealing because it’s more personable and less intimidating.
An unattainably perfect cherry pie (at least in terms of my baking abilities)
From an organizational perspective, I prefer Lottie+Doof because it is extremely well laid out and easy to navigate.  Its design in terms of font and layout is a little more creative than Three on One.  It’s easy on Lottie+Doof to search for a specific recipe, which is impossible to do on the Three on One blog.  There are also many more recipes on Lottie+Doof to choose from.
Although the two blogs are about the same subject matter, their content and pictures differ drastically.  I enjoy reading the Three on One blog because of the personal pictures and delicious ideas, but I like the accessibility and multitude of recipes in Lottie+Doof.  Furthermore, the different blog styles show the freedom blogging allows the author.  This aspect of blogging appeals to me because it furthers the creativity writing in general provides by factoring in design and font along with textual content, all of which the author has complete control over.  For my own portfolio, I want to incorporate a lot of images and have a very organized yet aesthetic layout.

“If we were to follow Hebrew usage in English we would write and print ‘cnsnts for consonants.’ “

After spending the last 15 or so years of my life studying Hebrew, I have to laugh at this point that Walter Ong brings up.  It’s true that the everyday Hebrew writing has no vowels and most Israelis would probably laugh at someone if they read or wrote with vowels.  None of my Hebrew assignments or papers since elementary school have been written with vowels and the thought of including vowels seems like an unnecessary chore.

 

Perhaps the lack of vowels is a quality of the language that makes me so attracted to it; when you write and especially when you read in Hebrew, you have to look at the context of a sentence and that tells you how to pronounce a word.  Studying Hebrew taught me the value of context for reading and writing and ironically improved my reading comprehension skills in English.  In Hebrew, two words might have the same letters, but the vowels above and below the letters change the pronunciation, meaning, and sometimes even the tense of the word.  This requires readers to read actively and take the context into account.  Reading out loud is especially important because you have to mentally survey the context to figure out the appropriate vowels, while actively pronouncing the words of the sentences.  I’m making it sound like a lot of work, but it’s actually a surprisingly natural process.  Reading without vowels becomes the norm and I completely forgot about that until reading Ong’s piece.

Reading, writing, and speaking seems so natural and it’s interesting to think about a time where people didn’t have language.  If writing, as Plato says, is an artificial process, then what about speaking?  Speaking could also be considered a form of technology since it requires a set of “tools.” Communicating through speech requires making sounds and putting thought into some sort of rules and guidelines as means of defining words.

“But blogging requires an embrace of such hazards, a willingness to fall off the trapeze rather than fail to make the leap.” – Andrew Sullivan

Writing in general requires an author to take risks. The best papers and novels aren’t those that are innocent and plain; rather, they are pieces that require the author to take a chance, experiment with ideas, arguments and word choice, and challenge the audience. From my own experience, I have found my best papers to be those that challenge the readers’ beliefs and effectively convince the audience to consider a different approach to an argument that once seemed black and white. In my opinion, successful writing requires one to take risks and not just write about the easiest topic to defend.

Blogging is one of the riskiest forms of writing because it is immediate, egocentric, and extremely honest. In the words of Andrew Sullivan a journalist and blogger for The Atlantic, blogging is “intimate, improvisational, and individual, but also collective.” A blog allows an author to gather and record their most intimate thoughts on a public forum that is immediately accessible to millions of readers. Furthermore, there’s a sense of permanency that blogging entails. Once someone blogs something, it’s almost impossible to totally delete. Along with this permanency and wide-reaching accessibility comes a natural fear of being rejected, judged, or dismissed by the audience. Thus far, the Writing Minor community has created an environment that fosters individuality and honest writing, which makes blogging an interactive and enjoyable process. I enjoy reading the ideas of my peers and sharing my ideas with them in an academic, yet laidback, forum.

Writing to Understand

 

Reading the two essays titled, “Why I Write,” by George Orwell and Joan Didion, served as the catalyst for the self-realization I had about why I write.  They rightfully consider writing to be a selfish process, although I interpret this bold statement differently than Orwell and Didion.  Writing is inherently selfish because the author incorporates so much of their own personalities into their work.  Whether this inevitable integration of self is intentional or subconscious depends on the writer and how extroverted they are.    The concept of “selfish” writing helped me realize my own motives for choosing to be a writing minor.  Regardless of the subject, I constantly find myself writing things over and over again to understand them.  I would consider my learning style to be writing since I learn best while talking notes and writing information into my own words.

Similarly, writing allows me to learn about myself.  When I put my most complex emotions into words, I am able to express feelings I could never say out loud.  Perhaps I can fully express myself in writing because I find it very difficult to lie or describe things I don’t truly believe.  There’s something about seeing the words in front of me that make them more real than they’d be if I simply said them out loud.  Furthermore, I love reading the emotional writing of others, and I always attempt to achieve a level of pathos in my academic essays.   When writers appeal to the emotions of their audience, their pieces are more powerful and effective.

In my essay, I want to explore the deep introspective implications writing has on my own understanding of myself, while simultaneously creating an emotional reaction in my audience.  I hope to emulate Nicholas Kristof’s descriptive and blunt writing style.  I love his honesty and ability to make me picture the people and places he writes about.

Writing for Political Purpose

Inequalities between men and women continue to thrive globally, yet don’t receive enough attention in the media.  Nicholas Kristof is an op-ed columnist for the New York Times who exposes and brings light to issues that many people, myself included, are unaware of.   His columns combine his political beliefs and firsthand accounts of human rights violations all over the world.  He travels to areas that are inaccessible for most Americans and brings two of his readers with him every year.  Kristof co-wrote a novel titled Half the Sky with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, about the worldwide oppression various groups of women suffer in an attempt to raise awareness for the millions of women who are killed each year as the result of gender violence.   His novel also contains a model for activists that both encourages and informs the reader on ways to actively put a stop to gender inequalities.

I’m never one to enjoy the introduction for a novel, but for some reason the introduction of Half the Sky really catches my attention.  We are immediately introduced to Sray Rath, a Cambodian teenager who has managed to escape sexual slavery twice and completely rebuild her life.  Sray’s story of survival is captivating and after reading that, it was impossible for me to put the book down.  Another aspect of the introduction that appeals to me is the detailed description of Sray and her livelihood.  I feel as if I am meeting her and immediately form a picture of her in mind with ease.  I love when writers describe things in such detail that the reader is left with a movie-like screenplay etched in their minds.

Furthermore, I admire Kristof and WuDunn’s ability to integrate research findings with narrative in a way that reads similar to a story.  I often struggle to incorporate multitudes of research with smooth flowing sentences in a way that doesn’t bore or overwhelm the reader.  Kristof on the otherhand, seamlessly accomplishes that and Half the Sky is written in a story-telling, attention-grabbing sort of way, despite all the research and facts that lay beneath the text.

In my own writing, I hope to emulate Kristof and WuDunn’s ability to write for political purpose, and moreover, the way they remain true to their beliefs.  The couple writes to inform the world on matters that are important to them, and not just to write a “made to order” bestseller.  Not only do they write about gender violence in a global context, but they also provide a model for improving the current situation by empowering women worldwide.  This shows another one of Kristof and WuDunn’s strengths; they aren’t “all talk” and they actually propose solutions to end gender violence.

“Writing is the act of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind.” – Joan Didion

Ever since I took English 225 (Academic Argumentation), I constantly feel a need to write aggressively.   From the beginning of a paper, I aggressively attempt to convince my audience why I have authority and why I deserve to be listened to.  Simultaneously, I gear my paper towards an intended audience, which often is the well rounded and open-minded college student or instructor.  This concept of envisioning an “intended” audience is a major difference between the writing I do in college and the writing I did as a young girl.  Like George Orwell and Joan Didion, I loved creating my own stories.  Often these stories involved magical people and talking animals inspired by the everyday characters and experiences of my own life.  I remember writing and illustrating these stories when I was little, never once thinking about the audience who would read them.  The stories were purely personal and childishly innocent.  My motives for writing then were simply to express myself.  I wrote because I loved it and I wrote for myself, not for anyone else.

Now when I write, I write to convince my audience and change their minds.  I write persuasively and aggressively to prove my credibility and validate my opinions.  Just like when I was a young girl, I write passionately, but with a completely different passion.  As a college student, I write enthusiastically about topics that matter to me because of my life experiences and knowledge I have gained through taking a wide range of classes on various subjects.  I agree with Orwell that it is impossible to “assess a writer’s motives without knowing something of his early development.”  All writers are shaped and biased by their experiences, communities, and the world at large.  All writers and people in general transition from a childhood of unintentionally disregarding the perspectives of others to the realization that there is indeed an audience.   In that sense, writing is like human development and reflects one’s transitions through life.