Pentametron

One of my newfound obsessions is the twitter account, Pentametron. Using a formula I will never understand, it searches all of twitter and finds tweets (probably) unintentionally in iambic pentameter. Think Shakespeare, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” (unstressed, stressed/ unstressed, stressed/unstressed, stressed/unstressed, stressed/unstressed, stressed). The account retweets two tweets at a time creating incredible rhyming couplets from two random twitter accounts. Sometimes the two tweets connect, sometimes they are completely unrelated but the result is somehow always beautiful. Besides being entertaining, Pentametron reveals something larger.
strained connection
People often don’t realize the artistic impact of their words, even if it is on a platform like twitter which isn’t necessarily for artistic purposes. The focus is mostly on the deeper meaning of our words, ignoring how enjoyable the music of speech can be. Pentametron shows this often ignored beauty. It is not immediately obvious,
reading both tweets is kind of necessary, but doesn’t appreciation strong connectionof all art require some effort? The example, “I never pay attention anyway/I’m gonna go ahead and hit the hay” could be lines from a poem. Even though the account users had no intention of writing poetically, they did, as shown by Pentametron. There might not be a connection in “Free stray umbrellas EVERYWHERE today/If only heaven was a mile away,” but maybe there is. Maybe there’s a metaphor in there, maybe something larger is going on outside this couplet, I don’t know. But it makes you think. It makes you consider that it could be something bigger than what it was probably intended to be. Even if it doesn’t mean anything deeper, hearing the meter is enjoyable.
Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 11.54.49 PMThere are so many good couplets and the rhyming alone makes it fun to read. It almost doesn’t matter if each couplet makes sense or not, the inherent pleasure in hearing rhyme combined with the larger impact of finding artistic merit in places where almost no one would think to look makes Pentametron effective. There are some inappropriate retweets because it filters only meter, not language. But the ones with swear words are equally amazing. Some are extremely emotional or just funny. What impresses me is that random twitter users are able to elicit emotion from followers like me. Maybe they will never know what their seemingly simple tweet has done, but they collaborated with another account to create images or stories. Each couplet can be personally interpreted by each follower, there is not right way to read it or definite meaning. “I’ve never even smoked a cigarette/ I haven’t even carved a pumpkin yet,” could be an existential crisis for someone or it could just be a list of Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 11.54.35 PMthings someone has never done. Maybe someone’s perfect night really is turning off the lights and turning on the disco light. Who knows. The point is, words have impact. Intentional or not, every time someone puts words together, whether it is while writing a novel, poem or tweet, readers are impacted. Everyone’s thoughts and words could reach an unintended reader and impact their lives. In the case of Pentametron, the impact is mostly just a chuckle, or occasionally the stimulation of deeper thought. But for some readers, a couplet might really inspire them. In short, reassurance and validation of everyone’s writing courtesy of Pentametron.

Remembering Through Writing

Surprisingly, Writing 220 is the class I write least in. I am in an art history course where we have short papers due weekly. I am in an upper level writing art history course where we literally turn in one paper and get the next assignment in the same motion. I am in another creative writing where I write poetry almost everyday. All of these courses challenge me to write in different ways, the familiar academic way in both art history classes, and new ways like in creative writing and Writing 220.

Being challenged to write in different ways has opened my eyes to what writing can do for me. With the repurposing project I can be direct and provocative. With my assignments in creative writing, I can look at the same things infinitely different ways. Sometimes I work through my challenges by creating images that clarify what I need to do. Those images tell me what it is and sometimes more importantly, what it is not. Sometimes I reconnect with the past. I can remember and I can look to the future. Sometimes I write a string of lines that make me feel so comforted I can fall asleep happy.

That happened to me when I was assigned to write a poem about a place I love. The first place that came to my mind was my Grampa’s house in East Aurora, New York. I grew up in that house, along with my sister and eight cousins. I spent all the major holidays there and random weekends that were equally major just because I was there. I could describe every detail of that house and provide a million stories about each room, but I won’t. In short, that house is where my family gathered and made our most cherished memories. It was more than a house, it was like feeling completely content with doing absolutely nothing. And I mean that, sometimes my cousins and I would all nap in the basement but I still remember those group naps fondly. We all loved that house as we loved each other, but Grampa got sick and had to sell the house. Today, new people live there and the windows we always kept open are always shut. I am torn between wanting to go back to get that feeling again but knowing that it won’t be the same. Grampa passed away and we’re left without the place and person who facilitated many of those memories. I wrote about missing the house, but the house is really him.

I realize that some parts won’t make sense to people outside my family because I reference inside jokes and family specifics. But writing this poem allowed me to go back in a way I never thought I
would be able to again. I will probably never be a poet and it doesn’t matter how “good” this poem is, it did something magical for me, like 307 Oakwood used to. Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 11.00.41 AM

307

To go to 307 Oakwood. What village road
to 307 Oakwood, if not every weekend, that Sunday
when the Bills played the Titans. The green
painted exterior and white trim,
an open bay window, looking into our little world,
a small needle hole. A porch swing which swings
back and forth through the days, months, years
of memories of 307 Oakwood. Cold in the fall,
colder in the winter, only in temperature,
like the first shiver from the first snow.
The long magnetic driveway that pulls
in warmth and family. A pull so enticing
a stranger walked in, turned away only because
there was no beer in his hands. A barn with a broken basketball hoop,
shoddily fixed with quarters stacked. A live wire
that stings, strung gazebo to barn. Outdated
familiar wallpaper surrounding
aging familiar faces. Well-worn furniture
facilitating group naps after eating too much. Lesser
but beautiful old houses flanking each side, 307
Oakwood stands apart, the first red leaf among green,
hearing your name in a crowd,
where family swings by
and stays for Hershey kisses. Cases of OV
and cases of orange pop kept cool
on the back porch. Inside, cheese and pepperoni pizza,
thoroughly baked, cut in squares.
Bags of pretzels, chips, and dip
poured into bowls, spilling onto our paper plates,
like freshly popped movie popcorn,
framed by tan whicker holders.
Roast beast, begun before we woke, filling
307 Oakwood with the inescapable scent
of beef and au jus, the way
the smell of pine stays on your clothes.
Too much horseradish, always too much horseradish.
A feast greater than the occasion, but
with us all occasions are greatly equal.
18 years of 307 Oakwood, many more
for many others, but many more
is still not enough. Not enough
mornings waking up to cinnamon toast,
caked perfectly with drippingly too much butter,
reading the newspaper, seeing that smile,
hearing that voice. The laugh that makes you cough, infectious.
Repeated jokes, no less funny, lining up
to get a hug that squeezed you but filled you with love.

The swing finally broke,
couldn’t support us one second longer.
307 Oakwood moved on
made changes, updated, surely more changes to come.
307 Oakwood is something else but
we are still right here.
The green and the white stay the same
but the window is closed, new memories being made
behind the needle hole made smaller.
To go to 307 Oakwood is not to go back. We loved
and took all there was, we gave
all that we were, constantly balancing Ovaltine filled past the brim.
In memory alone does 307 Oakwood
still exist, in memory alone
can we return. Fading, failing,
my imperfect memory betrays me. I can’t lose
all I have left. I can’t win more. But
if I ever knew 307 Oakwood, I know it’s newly giving,
to new people, what it gave to me.

Same Argument, Different Style

I chose to write a creative nonfiction article, meant to be featured in Time‘s Ideas category. Because I started with a research paper, I had a pretty clear argument from the beginning, but a very formal way of expressing it.  I couldn’t pull out any original sentences for my new project, they were all too academic for my new genre. Almost every sentence had to be rewritten from my original source to fit into my repurposed project.  Although that sounds like a lot of work, it was easier to change than I expected.  When I first read my paper again to start making changes, it was difficult to actually change something I had once crafted but the more I did it, the more I got into the mindset and habit of writing in a tone appropriate for my new genre.

I also gained inspiration from my main source, from which I modeled content and style.  I tried to use the same paragraph length and breaks as Laura Bates in her article.  After I got used to doing that, it was fun to be dramatic in my composition.  I never before had the freedom of abrupt endings or including quotes without in depth analysis.  I could say the things I was thinking without carefully wording an academic sounding sentence, I could be direct and therefore powerful (not to say that my original paper wasn’t also powerful).  I could also emphasize the importance of the author’s perspective more than I could in my original source.  In my research paper, I realized I could have come across as an upset teenager who just wanted to wear sweatpants to school.  But because I could take on the persona of a teacher with adult experience with the issue, and because I could speak in first person and be personal with readers, I feel like my argument was stronger in this project.

As for my individual style, I found myself using rhetorical questions often.  I also directly addressed the readers at a few points.  Both these style choices would be inappropriate in a research paper, but my new genre let me appeal on a personal level to the reader.  I could better entice the reader to consider the topic of my article through asking questions and directly addressing them.  But because of these personal touches, I had to watch myself when I used more serious and more academic phrases.  I tried to keep all of my sentences from sounding like they were from my original research paper, but it was difficult to do that when I referenced statistics or speculated on the societal impact of dress  codes.  Overall I found writing this creative nonfiction piece challenging but fun at the same time.  It wasn’t as easy as I anticipated and I know I still have room to improve, but I am happy with my first draft.

I Can’t Read It All

As I started researching my topic more, I have realized that it is more of a popular culture issue than a well-researched, academic issue.  My revisited original sources are news articles or personal opinion blogs. While they quote credible, notable people and the stories are undoubtedly true, there are not a lot of researched, proven studies on the effects of dress codes. I can see correlations, as many of the articles I found also have, but nothing concrete. I was hoping that since my original paper, something like this had been published, but I haven’t been able to find it.

 

B5328693_origut because my new media and new audience allows for it, I began looking at google image results from searching “dress codes in schools.”  Diagrams and powerpoint screenshots came up and I have found the results very compelling. One of the most interesting things about this generic search is the subcategories that came up with the results. One of the two subcategories was “girls.” There was no “boys” category and female figures were used on the diagrams about 70% of the time. In both subcategories, but in the “girls” category especially, were the most shocking pictures that show the stigmas and effects of dress codes. This visual information alone makes me feel like I will be able to find new yet equally substantive sources as my original paper.

 

Most of the new sources I found are similar to my original sources, which makes me feel comfortable and familiar with the material. I was excited to find an article from The Guardian that was published September 7th of this year. And another source from only 5 days ago from The Today Show. They are going to be great sources for my project, but I can’t help but feel sad every time I find a new source to add to my list. The more I find on this topic means the more prevalent it is in this country. Although it would make my project harder, having less sources to choose from would make me feel better for the status of education for girls across the United States. It is also saddening that every source I find links to a dozen similar stories of the same misconduct in the name of dress codes.

 

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If anything, I am overwhelmed with sources and I am having trouble narrowing down which ones to use. I don’t have the time to read everything that I find. Maybe one of the reasons for this is because I also often get sucked in and caught up following infinite links to other articles. Multiple times, I have found myself forgetting about the articles in a research context and reading them out of personal interest. While this is an issue that is probably good for my project because I am genuinely interested in the topic, it has wasted a good amount of time so far. During this beginning stage, there are worse problems to have. For now, I’m okay with busying myself finding too many sources.

Continuing the Fight Against Dress Codes

I decided to repurpose a research paper that I wrote my freshman year. The prompt was pretty wide open and my peers and I were free to write about anything we cared about. At the same time as the assignment, I was following a story about a girl in Florida who was fighting her school administration for unfair dress code regulations. The issue of dress codes and its underlying messages always interested me because it was an issue at my own high school, too. So for my research paper, I wrote about Marion Mayer and her fight against everyday sexism and defended the position that the enforcement of dress codes are damaging to the education of girls and boys. I chose to write about this topic again because I still care strongly about the topic and think I could better express my argument with different media. I began to research some of my original sources to see if any follow-up articles had been written and looked for new forums for the discussion of this issue. I found some interesting sources that I will use when repurposing my argument into an article for The Atlantic.

 

The first source I found is an article from The Atlantic by Jessica Lahey that discusses the impacts of dress codes on young girls. This article models the type of argument I am making and it is what I will use as a base when formatting my repurposing project. As a middle school teacher, Lahey talks about her concerns for her female students and describes the extra care she takes in teaching them to respect their bodies. Also, as a former high school teacher, she expresses her shock that body image issues caused by dress codes begin at such a young age. In one of my favorite parts of this article, Lahey quotes on of my favorite books, Little Women. Marmee is talking with Meg when she says,

Susan-Sarandon-Little-Women1“I only care what you think of yourself. If you feel your value lies in being merely decorative, I fear that someday you might find yourself believing that’s all you really are. Time erodes all such beauty, but what it can not diminish is the wonderful workings of your mind. Your humor, your kindness, and your moral courage. These are the things I cherish so in you.”

Lahey’s article will support my argument because unlike students or parents who are affected by dress codes, Lahey offers a staff position. Rather than following the lead of other school administrations, she speaks out about an issue that affects her students. Her perspective is unique in this way, she does not have a sense of personal defense like students or their parents do. She simply sees what is happening to her students as a result of dress codes and warns other of the effects.

 

The second source I found is a Time article by Laura Bates, who co-founded The Everyday Sexism Project. The project documents gender inequality that people experience everyday. The posts on theScreen Shot 2015-09-28 at 11.19.00 AM project’s website, which I will also be using as a source for my project, sometimes seem unbelievable while others seem common because it has become so engrained in society. Many of the posts includes the unequal enforcement of dress codes on female students as everyday sexism. Lahey quotes various posts that describe run ins with dress codes. She also links a twitter account that also posts stories of everyday sexism that women experience. Both the website and twitter account show how common gender inequality is and how many women it affects. I plan on using all three of these sources in my repurposing project because they are an article written on the subject by a credible author and first hand accounts of something that I claim to be normalized in society. I can use some of the posted stories and the trends that I find to support my argument.

 

Cooking Classy Saves Lives

Growing up in a big, fat, crazy Italian family means cooking has always been a big part of my life. I have been helping my grandmother and aunts and cousins in the kitchen for as long as I can remember. Cooking came naturally to me since I was always completely surrounded by it. Before I came to college it was easy to cook for myself, and I did almost every day. But at the beginning of my freshman year I quickly learned cooking for myself would not be easy. I ended up throwing out a lot of food because I didn’t have the space for leftovers or I struggled to make some of my staple meals because of the limitations of living in a dorm. I got sick of cereal, ramen noodles and microwavable meals within my first month of college.

 

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 7.53.36 PMEnter Cooking Classy. I randomly found this blog, which has truly saved my life, while desperately searching for any other food besides frozen pizzas. Completely run by a 20 something year old woman, Jaclyn, Cooking Classy has everything for people who enjoy making themselves good food. She posts recipes of different difficulty levels, meaning I can still find an amazing recipe even if I’m feeling lazy and want something quick. All the recipes have accompanying photos, which makes trying them out even more irresistible. And you can follow Cooking Classy on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram if you want to fill your social media feeds with tantalizing pictures of food.

 

The recipes are broken down into categories, like Italian or Southwestern,Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 7.53.02 PM or my favorite, Brownies and Bars. There is a recipe for a “small batch of brownies” which allegedly serves 3-4 people but no judgements if 3-4 servings turns into a single serving like it has for me. There are all kinds of dessert options to satisfy any sweet tooth. Sometimes you desperately need chocolate frosted peanut butter bars at 2 AM during finals. Cooking Classy is there for you. Sometimes you drastically overbuy vegetables and need to make them fast. Cooking Classy lets you search by ingredients. No matter what mood you are in or what you have lying around the house, you will find a recipe you will want to make immediately.

 

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 8.04.07 PMRun by a Mormon wife and mother,
the blog is aimed at other women and mothers but the content is not exclusive to these groups by any means. I think she speaks to this audience because it is the audience she can most relate to. She often replies to comments that visitors leave which gives the blog a strong sense of community. It is hard not to like Jaclyn because she presents herself and her interests, cooking and photography, in such a genuine way. I challenge you to look through some recipes and not want to try and match her process and final products. And who doesn’t like a woman who dedicated and entire category to breads and rolls that look like this.

 

While this blog isn’t going to be for everyone (Jaclyn does get a little preachy sometimes), if you like to cook real food like I do, you will love this blog. A few of my personal favorites besides the brownies are Grilled Greek Lemon Chicken, Chicken Parmesan and Zucchini (although I like to make my own sauce), Creamy Tomato and Tortellini Soup and Energy Cookies. If you don’t mind spending some time making your dinner, I promise you find recipes you will want to make for the rest of your life. The recipes are easy to find and easy to follow. I strongly recommend checking out this site before your next trip to the grocery store.

 

What Counts as Writing

When I was choosing samples of writing to include in our class gallery, I chose convenience and picked three things with text that I had in front of me. I was eating a bowl of cereal, so I included the nutritional information from the box, I had just taken in the mail, so I included and advertisement I got, and I had an old football ticket on my desk, so I included that as well. I took what counts as writing very literally and picked three things that had words. But after looking at the gallery and our discussion in class I began to think of writing in a more abstract way. Some classmates argued that writing includes anything that communicates or has a message. Now I agree that videos or movies or works of art often, if not always, require writing to plan and execute their production and I don’t think there is a difference between what counts as writing and the products of writing.

For example, there was debate over whether paintings count as writing. I think, like Brandt says, writing is like a manufacturing process. Writing can be involved in manufacturing a painting, so the painting itself also count as writing. It’s like baking cookies, many ingredients (flour, eggs, sugar, chocolate chips, etc.) go into making the final product (chocolate chip cookies) which we consume, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t eating flour, eggs, sugar and chocolate chips that went into making the cookies. If writing went into the production of something, that thing is writing, too. Seeing people add things like pictures or videos made me think deeper about what counts as writing and come to this conclusion. Then discussing the topic in class definitely made me think even deeper.

In the minor in writing I hope to keep learning new ways to look at things that have always been present in my life. I am already gaining new perspectives after one discussion and I hope to gain even more insight from classmates with such diverse backgrounds. I also have more mechanical goals, like improving my editing skills and becoming more direct in my arguments. Overall, I hope to learn skills and techniques that I can use in the future, whether it is in other classes or a career.