“How I Write” Event with Dr. Sheila Murphy

On Tuesday evening (October 23), I attended Sweetland’s “How I Write” event with University of Michigan Screen Arts and Cultures’ Associate Professor, Sheila Murphy. This wasn’t the first time I heard Professor Murphy speak. Professor Murphy was one of a select group of guest lecturers for UC 225 (22 Ways of Thinking About The Games We Play) during the Winter 2012 semester earlier this year.

It was easy to relate to Professor Murphy. She told very personal stories about why she writes, the process of how she writes, and how she continues to motivate herself to write more – even though she doesn’t need much motivation (just comfy pants, good snacks, and some pre-writing music). She also has a new book out, which I’d like to read, “How Television Invented New Media.” 

As an aspiring writer, one thing I struggle with is eradicating jargon. Professor Murphy discussed why she gets frustrated and annoyed with jargon in the field of writing. Murphy said it should be, “legible and accessible.” I agree with Murphy in the sense that writing should be legible and accessible, but sometimes there’s pressure to establish your ideas in a certain way. Writing should be a way to convey an idea or a message – so, why complicate it?

One thing that really struck me, which prompted my question at the end of her presentation, was why, as a child, “Was she discouraged from asking people ‘Why’”?

Often times, people unnecessarily ask the question “why”. But, there is nothing wrong with being inquisitive if it serves a useful purpose. For me, I frequently find myself asking others… “Why.” Whether it’s in the professional setting, in the classroom, or with my friends – there’s always more to discover. That’s why I ask the question.

Professor Murphy ended with wise words of advise to individuals looking to improve their writing: She says be invested, be committed, and avoid jargon (especially for undergrads), use your brain, even if it gets reformatted, and never take what you’re doing too seriously.

What is “A Space?”

This post isn’t going to be about writing, so much, as about language. Which we use for writing (YAY Alex figured out words!). More specifically, the language we use at the University of Michigan.

Of course, there is the obvious language, like “The Cube,” “The Diag,” and “Angell,”  not to mention the endless acronyms like CCRB, MLB, ITCS, OSCR and SOAS. It must be really odd for out of town people to listen to U of M people talk; I barely have an idea what I’m talking about half the time.  But the language of this university goes beyond our buildings, administrations, and freaky art installations.

I took a class last year, in which the GSI (another one of our Michigan-specific terms, most people have TAs)  liked to use really abstract language. This really frustrated me; I’m a concrete person, and I wasn’t always sure what she meant. She would say things like “negotiate” in this special way that meant “figure out” but in an inexplicably more meaningful way, like to “negotiate one’s identity in a patriarchal society” or “negotiate the power dynamic of one’s relationship.” My least favorite word was “space.” Space meant just about anything to this GSI, from physical space, to emotional space, to the space of the classroom we were in. It was an almost metaphysical concept which she used frequently and interchangeably. My favorite part of the class was when she’d inevitably combine the two and talk about how to “negotiate this space.” Oh, how she loved negotiating those spaces, whatever that meant.


Another professor, one I had last semester, was in love with the phrase “the way in which,” instead of just “how.” Every few minutes, it was “the way in which.” If the GSI ever procreated with this professor, their children would probably talk about “the way in which he or she negotiates this space” endlessly.

The worst part is, that this is not specific to this professor, or this GSI. People I work with at SAPAC talk quite about about negotiation and space, and more and more professors enjoy using “the way in which” as I take more classes. And I have definitely caught it. When giving people advice, I’ve started saying things like “I know it is difficult to negotiate these parts of your identity,” and in a conflict with my parents, I asked for “a space to understand things on my own terms.” “The Way In Which” has worked its way into many of my papers lately as well.

What do I mean by these words? It is different every time. Sometimes, though, they are the only words that make sense for a certain concept. There are many other words as well that carry a specific meaning in the language of this university, like “identity,” “triggering,” and my absolute favorite, “intersectionality.” Saying any of these things makes immediate sense to anyone who goes here, but take it outside of this context, and the specific way you mean the words can get lost.

Does anyone have any thoughts on why U of M has so many words that carry a different weight than they usually do? Any other examples of words that took on a new meaning after you started going there? Does anyone know what “negotiating a space” looks like?