PSA on Self-Reflective Comments

Well, Naomi (and other Sweetland Writing Profs).  You have succeeded in brainwashing me.  Here I am, sitting in the library determinedly writing various papers until my computer runs out of batteries (currently at 9% – I have been here awhile), and I am writing self-reflective comments!  I didn’t even realize what I was doing until I had written a couple and started to rearrange some paragraphs.  And then I realized that I have been using reflective commenting quite a bit lately.  At work, in my internship, when reviewing friends’ papers … and it’s just so handy!

Seriously.  When I look at my life before I knew about reflective commenting (and the “add new comment” function on Word), it’s like those scenes they show in infomercials – you know, black and white, and everyone’s frustrated by the stupidest things.  And now everything’s all technicolor and awesome, like Dorothy’s shoes in The Wizard of Oz.  A bit dumb?  Yeah, but hey.  It’s the small things that make life enjoyable.

Before I used commenting on papers, especially if I had to give feedback on something, I would get mixed results.  If I gave feedback to them in person, they’d be all like, “Uh, wait.  Can you write that down?”.  And if I tried to write it down within the body of the paper or by using track changes, they’d be all like, “Uh, now I have to erase all this crap”.  But seriously, commenting.  Awesome!  (Gotta go, my battery is dead, so that means I can leave!)

:)

I must admit that I have been slacking on the whole “2-3 blog posts per month” phenomenon, to be honest I haven’t even visited the blog since last semester ended.  How weird it is to be sharing our blog with a new cohort!  And I don’t mean weird in an offensive way, I guess the word that I am looking for is “different”.  It is so interesting to sign on to this blog and be able to read posts by people who are doing the same, or similar, assignments that I completed a semester before.  I’ve never had an opportunity like this in a class and I find it extremely valuable.  I also like the fact that I can read someone’s blog and hear their unique voice shine through, without ever seeing their face.  Last semester, I felt that I really got to know most of the members of my cohort through their blogs (and a little bit from class interactions) and I’m lucky that this semester I will still be able to get to know the cohort, even if it is in a slightly more creepy way.  If I ever meet any of you guys, I feel like it will be a little bit like watching a movie after you’ve read the book (“I didn’t picture you like that in my head!”)

I hope all of the new cohort enjoys the writing minor as much as I have so far and I can’t wait to meet you all!

 

Playing Hooky from Responsibility

I just got finished playing “Marry Sex Bury” (to call it by its PG-rated name) with friends.  Fun game, but here’s the thing.  I thought we were supposed to be adults by now.  Earlier in the day after class, I went to the bank and filled out paperwork. Then I paid my rent and signed forms to drive University vehicles.  Then I went to work, cooked dinner, went to a meeting, did homework and … listened to Robyn and played that game.

Granted, we used historical figures like presidents and composers but that makes it a bit more pathetic, really.  I said this just now to my friend, and she just laughed and reminded me, “College is our last chance to act like kids”.  So maybe that pathetic-ness is what I should embrace about being a college student.  After all, we have license to act irrationally and make mistakes.  We’re under large amounts of stress and our immature pre-frontal cortexes can’t handle it.  Though I’m afraid playing M.F.K. is still a bit pathetic, as irrational actions go.

“It’s just so well written!”

is my go-to response for why I’m currently reading Lolita. It is a classic, yes, but there is absolutely no denying that it is one creepy novel. I am avoiding carrying it around to classes like I usually do with books (in case I get there early, we get a break, I might possibly have a 5 to 10 minute window to indulge my pathological reading obsession) so people don’t ask stupid questions.

Because yeah, for the uninitiated, Lolita is definitely written from the perspective of a solipsistic pedophile trying to rationalize his desires and actions. Lolita herself is the narrator’s 12-year-old obsession, a precocious, angry little girl whose flippant comments belie the loneliness and pain she feels. Reading scenes between the two main characters feels icky and wrong.

But dear readers, this book! I hesitate to recommend it because it might get me put on a government watch list, but the writing! Vladimir  Nabokov (who in interviews revealed his disgust with his own character) creates the ultimate unreliable narrator, while simultaneously hinting at the real state of the world. The rich imagery, full of descriptions of the French Riviera and the rougher facets of the American landscape, immerses the reader in its tangible world. And then there are puns, alliterations, allusions, metaphors, flashbacks, asides! Reading Lolita is like watching an Olympic gymnast make her death-defying stunts look easy. Nabokov, not even a native speaker, is clearly a master of the English language.

So when I say “It’s just so well written!” I mean it this time, not as the oft-repeated  justification of a girl who reads during meals because she can’t fit it anywhere else in her life. Lolita is truly a well-written piece of literature. So read it, if you can, though I understand if you don’t want to show anyone.

Semester Drop-In from a F’11-er

Last semester, I was in English 325 and Writing 200. Papers/writing assignments were due every week or so.

This semester, I have ONE paper due…all term. It’s a weird feeling to not have a  paper to work on. I hate writing, but I love it with an equal passion. It’s just a different kind of “studying.” That being said, writing may be out in a formal, academic way for me, but it is ever present in many other realms: lab reports, personal statements, applications, e-mails, etc. I find myself actually relieved when I see that an application requires an essay of some sort because I know that will be the place that I can really set myself apart.

On a different note, I drop in on the blog every once in a while while I”m procrastinating work and I’m in disbelief (in a good way!). I have been truly AMAZED at the parallels that the new cohort is experiencing that we experienced in the fall with the “Why I Write” paper. Even though it’s a new teacher/different people, the thought processes have been surprisingly relatable. One of the biggest things I struggled with in that assignment was trying to make it meaningful; I realized that I write to learn and writing about myself seemed to, in itself, defy my purpose for writing. What I found out was that learning, even if it is about yourself, opens up a wealth of things to write about. I was able to finish what I would say is my best piece of writing to date,  in my English 325 class because I decided to engage in a little introspective writing.

One last note on writing (even though this post has been a random string of “writing-related thoughts” from the beginning). My Eng 325 guy said that writers have a morbid way of envying people who have had something terrible happen to them because it gives them something to write about. Today, I stumbled (yes, that kind) upon this:

INTERVIEWER

What would you consider the best intellectual training for the would-be writer?

HEMINGWAY

Let’s say that he should go out and hang himself because he finds that writing well is impossibly difficult. Then he should be cut down without mercy and forced by his own self to write as well as he can for the rest of his life. At least he will have the story of the hanging to commence with.

Happy Thursday 🙂

Lap One

It’s not often that someone asks me why I write, but when they do, the answer is always simple: because I love it. The next obvious question is why I love it, and the answer to this is not so immediately clear – but why?! Writing a pretty personal thing; I’ve never really been asked to explain my motives or reasons, and in a way that makes me appreciate this assignment for shamelessly pointing its finger and asking me to somehow finally answer those questions.

 

The greatest obstacle I have run into so far has been choosing a creative framework for the assignment. I have some idea about what I want to say, but being the kind of perfectionist and eternally dissatisfied writer that I am, I’m never happy simply saying what I want to say without a substantial stab at something deeper. As it stands, my first draft for the “Why I Write” essay is a crazy Pollock-y blend of red, black, and blue fonts, with certain sections highlighted in bright green and others splattered with a series of question marks and exclamation points. Each color represents my relative attachment to what I’ve written: words in black font are there to stay, words in red font are important but need major revision, and I am just so-so about the blue words. The green-highlighted sections signal that I might need to find a different home for that specific group of ideas. It helps to visually organize myself and prioritize the writing this way, and it gives me several starting points when I’ve spent more than two or three hours staring at a computer screen and feel like I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing or where to go next.

 

Working through the challenge of potential frameworks is going to take a lot of time, particularly a lot of time spent in a really uncomfortable chair. It might sound ridiculous, but I’ve found that the only way I can truly focus on transferring my best thoughts onto paper is when I’m sitting somewhere really uncomfortable. The squishy red chairs at Starbucks might be great for enjoying an extra hot chocolate and a Chonga bagel, yet they don’t quite provide the most favorable conditions for cranking out thoughtful writing when your head is swirling with forty grams of sugar. When I find myself in sticky spots like this and really need to focus, I plop myself in a really hard chair (preferably in the Law Library) and/or somewhere with ridiculously bright lighting to minimize my chances of dozing off.

 

I don’t want to make any sweeping generalizations, but I would venture to guess that a challenge common to all writers is overcoming their pride for their first drafts, something I think Anne Lamott strikes gold with in her piece “Shitty First Drafts.” I particularly love how she says that “all good writing begins with terrible first efforts.” It really lifts a lot of pressure when you come to terms with the fact that any effort is a start, and you can save any judgments for later when “you fix it up…[and] try to say what you have to say more accurately” in that final lap. When I used to take notes in high school, I would be so obsessive about not having to cross anything out, not having to start a new line on a second page with two minutes left in the class, etc. But I was the only one who would be reading those notes, so what did it matter? I wasn’t being graded on aesthetics or even the contents of those notes; it took a very high dose of diligence to rid myself of that obsessive, proud habit of having perfect notes every single time, and I think I will have to apply the same Lamott-esque mindset to my first draft for this assignment: to be content with the fact that this is not the final draft, that it will get better, once it all gets out of my head.

 

What a relief.

A Toast to Toast

Thank God for writers like Joan Didion.

 

I cannot think of a single piece of writing in recent memory in which the author was as honest about his or her process as Didion in her piece, “Why I Write.” She confesses that she was never a “thinker,” but instead a “writer”; it is so comforting to know that someone else out there thinks that those two titles can be separate entities. I’ve always seen writing as a journey to thought; 99.9% of the papers I write start out as complete mumbo jumbo without a clue how it will end up until it’s completely written. When faced with a topic, theme, or question to write about, I am distracted (like Didion) by all of the possible unknowns and “pictures” before I can come to a core conclusion. By identifying these pictures first, I can then understand where the writing was supposed to go all along. There is something really comforting in the fact that successful writers share the same writing process as you, and that your own process is actually legitimate.

 

I think, in a way, the three writers we’ve discussed and I share a certain level of obsession with writing: we do it because we love it, because it’s something we’re good at, and perhaps most importantly, because it’s something that we know we’re supposed to be doing.

 

Yet, aren’t these reasons a little selfish? Writers like Andrew Sullivan write to start conversation (“the conversation is the point”) and to connect with readers, a seemingly much less egocentric enterprise. To be sure, any good writer has an impact on readers, yet not all of them set out to write with the purpose of inviting reader’s thought into the equation. I suppose this is where Sullivan and I are quite different. My writing has always fallen under two purposes one would find on a visa application: for business or for pleasure. Unlike Sullivan, I’ve never truly found a happy medium between the two; school assignments and personal writing have always remained forever exclusive and innately different, yet Sullivan’s position in the blogosphere has allowed him to connect academic/political/social themes with personal commentary and connect to his readership. With the exception of written letters, I think this is a success that has become only recently possible with the creation of the Internet, and says something about how we can expect our roles as writers and the effects of what we write to change in the years to come.

 

The example of writing that I chose to bring to class tomorrow is called “On Toast” by Michael Procopio (and, since I really loved this piece, I actually wrote about it on this very blog a few weeks ago). Procopio actually has a blog called Food for the Thoughtless, on which he writes, “I have always regarded my toast as a platform upon which to place other, more interesting things. And, though I sometimes take my toast with jam, I almost always take it for granted.” His essay, which can be found on the blog (www.foodforthethoughtless.com), explores the writer’s relationship with the simplest of foods, yet it takes a shocking turn and explores how something so simple can mean so much to someone who is likely to die very soon. On a happier note, what I love about this essay is that it appears on a food blog! This means it is complete with pictures of – you guessed it – food, and who doesn’t love looking at some tasty pictures while reading an essay? Interestingly, Procopio gives his reasons for the essay’s theme in the body of the essay itself, which made me think of the manifesto-esque style of Orwell’s piece. It does not appear as though Procopio has any particular political or historical impulses in his piece, yet it is possible to perceive a hint of the “egoism” Orwell mentions: it seems like Procopio is trying to prove to himself that he can make something as simple as toast interesting, something worthy of reading about. Perhaps egoism fits in here somewhere with respect to the writer’s desire to prove or realize his or her own abilities (response to a “challenge” as a sub-motive). Yet, I see more of a connection between Procopio and Didion: he is trying to make sense of human connection to something, something that many of us take for granted (a piece of browned bread) and to understand a greater picture from an amalgam of smaller pictures (akin to Didion’s writing process). This intent to create something powerful from really nothing in particular – and, in my opinion, Procopio’s great success in such an endeavor – really speaks to the power of writing and what we can do with it when we feel passionately about it. I would love to try to emulate Procopio’s balance of simplicity and complexity in my own writing.

 

I think the most compelling part of this essay is its last lines: “…I will certainly never take my toast for granted again. Or you, for that matter.”

 

Woah.

 

– Allie

Break and Social Media; Or Why I Never Left High School

Break is a time for reconnecting with old friends one has been separated from by the cruel forces of colleges in other cities. It is for catching up, meeting up, and making time for the old high school gang. Of course, this gathering is probably less absolutely vital since the advent of social media; I can keep track of Emily, Clayton, and Jen from my own computer every day I’m in Ann Arbor. And for this I am thankful. New media is excellent for staying connected (Thanks Captain Obvious). But it is also excellent for pettiness, gossip, and fighting.

In my new media essay, I talked about how new media enables a constant stream of conversation, and how that would be great, except sometimes the conversation isn’t worth having; like when a whole bunch of commenters use the space under a kitten video on YouTube to hate on Justin Beiber. I don’t like Justin much myself, but seriously guys, his fans should not all be shot along with everyone who clicked the “Dislike” button. As much as those conversations frustrate me, they are nothing compared to drama created online by people I actually know.

For example, one friend, who shall remain anonymous, told me that she uses her Twitter account to talk about how she really feels; stuff she can’t put on Facebook. I would love to explore the norms that have evolved around which statuses belong on Facebook, and which make better Tweets, but for now I’ll stay on topic. She has been having  a conflict with another girl who is a follower of her Twitter. So Girl 2 can see everything Girl 1 posts about her, all in the spirit of catharsis. Why does my first friend feel the need to express her annoyance with people on Twitter? Why does the Internet need to know? (Asked the girl currently writing a blog post about her high school friend drama)

These same friends had an all out battle on Google Plus a few months ago, like full on Cyberbully nonsense. Foursquare, that inexplicable Smartphone mechanism which allows you to “check in” to various locations (so people can track your every move?) has also played into their fights. When one girl claimed to feel ill to avoid seeing the other, she checked into places on Foursquare, contradicting her earlier assertion that she was staying home. When these two make up, Facebook is full of back and forth Wall Posts saying “I HEART YOU BEST FRIEND” and such.

Why am I chronicling such utter nonsense? Well, honestly, because I’m frustrated, and like Girl 1, I feel better when I put my frustrations on the Internet (Someone should study this. Seriously.) and I know neither of my friends are likely to stumble upon this particular corner  of WordPress. Also, I think examining what new media is being used for, and the new ways people can fight, and express themselves, is interesting. Before all of this media, would my friends even be fighting? Probably. But maybe they would have to confront each other head on, rather than resorting to the cloak and dagger dance of social media.