A kid can do that…

So much of what you notice when you people watch at a museum (which I can’t help but do even though I am simultaneously engrossed by the art) is a strong sense of disconnect. There are the academics or the appreciators who are not wandering in without a sense of purpose. They know what’s available and they are there to soak up the historical importance of the canvases hanging on the wall. They understand that curators spend weeks agonizing over tiny details. How many centimeters apart should these two works be? Is the lack of chronology confusing or informative? These two works share little historical context but within their own spheres are surprisingly alike – do I still place them together?

Across the divide are the people who see art museums as a tourist attraction on TripAdvisor’s Top Ten list. You can’t fault someone for not knowing the history or significance of the various collections, but to watch some of the glazed stares you might encounter at the Louvre or the Chicago Institute of Art is a stark reminder that many people just can’t be bothered to care.

The Vienna Secession sparked my interest as soon as I first encountered it in class reading. I care about this topic very much, and the passion that arises from a person writing about something they care about is both important yet banal – we have very nearly come to expect that sense of passion at this point. But the bigger picture here is that when I look at a moment as pivotal in art history as the Secession was, I want to make that context relatable to people who might look at a modern masterpiece and think, A kid can do that. It’s not possible to eradicate that saying entirely, but it would be nice to try.

The Law of Cliches

While we were discussing the term “boilerplate” in class, I found it immediately interesting how each of us was able to come up with distinct examples of what we thought constitutes boilerplate without being able to really define what boilerplate actually is. As I struggled to accurately define boilerplate, the example that crept into the back of my mind was legal boilerplate (more specifically, boilerplate contract clauses). I have been reading a lot of contracts recently and unsurprisingly, each seemingly individual contract shares a few boilerplate clauses that are meant to serve the same purpose. I began to think that, while Lainey mentioned that boilerplate could often be used to persuade its readers without providing any concrete information, examples of contract boilerplate were not meant to persuade, but to provide information in a seemingly vague manner. A lot of boilerplate phrases could function in different ways based on the context, but what I think makes a lot of sense is the idea that boilerplate is so popular and necessary because of how generally vague it is. For instance, in one contract I was reading, the clause that I had already seen time and again was “By signing this contract you agree to keep company information confidential and within your control at all times. All private information will be returned to the company immediately upon termination.” While clauses like this are not necessarily void of meaning, they are perfectly vague in that they encompass enough of general idea of confidentiality that further clarifying clauses do not need to be included in the eyes of the law.

Additionally, I looked into some of the cliches that people in legal writing urge you to consider omitting. A few examples of cliches in legal writing would have been hard to point out without being actively involved in the study of law (or legal writing), but once I read them, it became clear just how cliche many of the terms we hear in both legal and everyday writing are. For instance, phrases like “slippery slope,” “point of no return,” “no stone unturned,” and “begs the question” were all examples that I think could be considered very cliche not just in the context of law but in many other areas as well.

Word Games

One word that I find to be slightly two-sided is personal narrative. We often relate the term personal narrative with a form of writing very commonly used in young adult writing. In middle and high school, it seems as though we were constantly being asked to submit personal narratives in relation to whatever themes we were discussing in the books we read. However, the grading of those pieces was subjective to a point that no one ever seemed to feel that they were writing or submitting any writing of value. What the teachers looked for was a loose interpretation of the theme in relation to some kind of story from our own lives. But really, I think the term personal narrative had just evolved into a loosely structured lesson plan whose aim was nothing more than a chance for teachers to give us an easy assignment that required very little from them to read and grade. Personal narratives were little more than a chance to talk about stories from our own life, and without the initiative to write these stories on our own (as well as the added requirement to tie that story to a theme from literature), I usually felt that they lacked the real intrigue that would have made them really worth something.

Read my stuff?

Coming from a person who kept a very detailed diary as a kid (Not kidding…I wrote about my day every single night right before I went to bed), it is sometimes hard to imagine someone else reading the things that I write in my own real voice. Since middle school I think I pretty much perfected the art of the 5-paragraph essay, and by high school I was an expert in bullshitting, but it wasn’t often that I was asked to write anything for anyone to read that didn’t involve some kind of academic structure. Even poetry assignments, which you might think would expect us to draw more from our creative sides, were peppered with requirements that kept us on a very specified track. Now don’t get me wrong, I love poetry and don’t mind writing it, but I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that people would line up to read for any reason. Looking back on pieces I’ve written without the explicit intention of audience has given me a little insight into the kind of things that might be interesting about my writing. Maybe people would read it because I love the way words sound, and I love coming up with descriptions and phrases that sound interesting and intelligent. I guess I still can’t give a completely concrete answer about what other people would find interesting, but I think I have a fairly unique grasp on blending an almost academic style of writing with a more personal tone, which is a combination I personally love to read in other people’s writing.

My Weekend Web Browsing

On Friday, when I began my browsing experiment, I will admit that I was very aware that I was keeping track of where I went on the Internet, which I would guess is probably the most plausible reason for why my Friday browsing was much more varied than the rest of my weekend. While much of my Friday was spent doing work for my classes, I also ended up on a number of sites that I don’t normally traverse. I spent quite a while researching cheap flights for my trip with a friend, and ended up checking far more websites than I think I might normally have checked when looking for flights–I usually give up quickly and ask my dad, who is an expert at finding deals, to look for me. My browsing history also indicated quite a lot of procrastination earlier in the day. While I had a plan to be very productive at my various readings and response papers (which don’t generally involve too much Internet activity), I spent plenty of additional time browsing both Facebook and Pinterest, which leads me to a variety of new sites whenever I find an interesting pin. While I didn’t visit MPrint more than once over the weekend, I will say that my habits regarding that site are fairly regular, as I usually end up printing my readings for the week on Thursday or Friday. In addition to MPrint, I regularly visited both CTools and Canvas throughout the day.

Most of my Saturday was also spent doing class readings and writing essays; I visited Sephora’s online community, which I hadn’t been to in a while, as I am using it as the topic of one of my research papers. As was the case on Friday, I continued to visit CTools and Canvas for school-related things, and Saturday I also spent some time on Wolverine Access in order to update my timesheet for work. I remember after I returned home on Saturday to relax, I spent quite a long time looking for something to watch on Netflix. All the movies I wanted to see were not available, so I spent a lot more time browsing than usual while trying to find something to watch. In addition to these main sites, I spent some time browsing some online shopping websites, but eventually tired of that spent some time away from the Internet. I checked back in to search the Ann Arbor Public Library Catalog, and once I found what I was looking for I was pretty much done for the day in regards to my Internet use. For what has been going on with my browsing so far on Sunday, most of the sites I visited had to do with my internship search, which I accomplished through using Handshake and also browsing a few additional companies that I had not yet applied to.

Overall, I feel that my browsing often varies based on the specific task that I’m going. While I will not deny that there are a few sites in particular that I visit nearly every day (or at least on a fairly regular basis), I was actually surprised at the number of variations I ended up making to this general pattern. However, whenever I visit some sites that are slightly outside the range of what is considered to be normal for my browsing history, I will say that in general these sites are rarely completely new to me–more often than not they are sites that I had regularly visited in the past and was familiar with, which I thought was an interesting observation.

The 5 Best Survival Techniques (If You’re A Cracked Weird World Article)

I hadn’t previously spent a lot of time reading articles on Cracked.com, but I picked it because I have always been interested in the kind of hilarious and slightly offensive writing that often inadvertently drives popular culture. As challenging as it can be for a non-seasoned writer to capture the satirical essence of a Cracked writer, reading enough of their signature style gives you a pretty good idea of the formula that allows them to churn out enough to keep their readers fat and happy. At the end of the day, they never forget that a well-placed Game of Thrones or Star Wars reference never hurts the cause.

The 5 Best Survival Techniques (If You’re A Cracked Weird World Article) 

The task of populating the dense forest of the Internet with your brilliance is pretty much the same battle the half-man endures every time he faces off against Cersei or another one of his many enemies–a never-ending supply of wit and willingness to ignore the prejudice of any other Internet-dweller that could cross you. Being refreshingly original is one of of our trademarks, and yet we know that’s not enough to keep our heads above water. As a budding Cracked writer, remember that being “refreshingly original” is easiest when you follow these little tips:

  1. Regular weird facts are not enough…it’s your time to dive into the realm of Ripley’s and discover things that the majority of the population never would have even considered to be an issue. Take, for instance, the equally disturbing and hilarious-for-female-superiority-advocates fact that pops up in Cracked’s article about dog breeding: female dogs who attempt to run from their male counterpart immediately after the “breeding process” is complete are more or less capable of ripping his penis off. Some may be familiar with the human equivalent–you know, the one where you basically stick a razor blade up your lady parts and…you get the picture. I guess the next set of lessons in female empowerment has gone to the dogs.
  2. Choose images carefully–they must be simultaneously applicable to the list item at hand as well as containing a caption that brings a subtle new level of weird hilarity to an otherwise serious subject. In this same dog breeding article, when the author addresses the problem of female dogs leaving their men sans genitalia, what really makes the fact pop is a humble picture of a typical canine restraint (known to some as a leash) that is captioned, “Representing one of the few times where BDSM increases sexual safety.” You get the idea.
  3. When in doubt, it helps to start out with a pithy yet highly relatable anecdote about daily life that strikes a nerve with the target audience (spoiler alert: it’s probably women). Take the office housework description at the start of this Cracked article: oddly enough, even if a woman hasn’t been directly in that situation, she somehow feels comfort being placed in the generalization of the pitfalls of her gender. Because being told that you’re quote “unique” is so yesterday.
  4. Get some quotable support from a reliable source, even if it’s not a reliable source. Sounds weird, right? But the truth is you can pretty much caption anyone to sound reliable. Take the Bachelor for instance–the television experts of letting the world know that a bunch of post-plastic surgery Hollywood “waitresses” have more interesting lives than you might think. You know, like that one girl every season who ends up with the title “Dog Lover” or “Chicken Enthusiast.” How can you not take her seriously, amirite?
  5. Even if you can’t think of a fifth fact…nope, doesn’t matter. Four is obviously not enough to capture a reader’s attention, you heathen. Get a grip.

One way of becoming a history buff (kind of)

After hearing Peter Ho Davies speak to my class last year (and subsequently falling in love with his novel), I was inspired to learn more about writing historical fiction. With the help of Davies’ advice to pick an area of history that you are interested in and develop a new angle on it, I decided to develop this idea for a novel that I really wanted to pursue more seriously. But writing a novel is a huge task, one I know I couldn’t take lightly, so I would really like to learn more about the breakdown process of writing a novel. More specifically, I want to know more about how to ensure that the scope of creative license in historical fiction doesn’t go too far beyond the realm of what makes sense. I’m sure there are a lot of ways to approach writing historical fiction, even on a smaller scale, that will be useful to know for this goal I hope to eventually accomplish.