Out with the old

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I like to think of my writing as soul-tied experience in which I’m reinventing my old self while being introduced to the new self. Sounds easy, however, it is a very difficult realization. I once (once as in a long long time ago; only a year back, oh the lovely ideas of imagination) use to look at myself as a very stupendous writer. I thought I understood the complexities of writing a final draft, not personalizing the red marks on my papers from peers, and being able to draft a quick assignment in a  heartbeat. I was not only cocky as a writer, I was close-minded to any things anew. I disliked the ideas of seriously critiquing my papers and held on to the sentences that brought me to those 5 page papers to begin with. I think that’s what it was, the clutter of the pages was what I loved so much. And honestly after so much priming and drafting, I now can look back on my writing and notice how much of my drafts I didn’t really change back then; I was a writer hoarder. Taken in by textures of poetry, fiction, and characterization, I didn’t want to let go of anything, every word mattered. Every situation mattered as well; from the long lost eboard positions that I had to learn to master, to the hot days of Summer that charmed Markley’s fire alarm catastrophe, I wanted to tell the surface-levels of everything. Without these, these words of meaningless approval from myself (my reader didn’t matter at that moment), my writing was less of nothing. My writing was a mere poof of existence in which no one could possibly understand my words without every single word that my brain pushed out. Oh the perils of Writer Hoarders!

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My Writing 220 and English 325 course changed that around thankfully. Not only was I introduced to a gang-load of amazing writers from different genres that critiqued my essays tremendously, I was also introduced to another writer afraid of correction, vulnerability, confusion, and mishaps. This particular writer disliked critiques, didn’t understand the purpose of authenticity, and took over the role of a “great writer that needs no help from anyone else syndrome”. Maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, but you get my drift. This writer was me, and after weeks of new projects, revisions, peer critiques, deleted words, and run on sentences, this writer infamously known as myself became a little more aware of the type of writer she not only was, but the writer she was destined to be. The inner core of my writing was so close to my soul that I didn’t want to share my experiences with any of my readers. I wanted to showcase how great of a writer I was, without mentioning my life experiences to get there. I was lost in a sphere of thinking I knew where I was and once I found myself (naked page, blinking cursor, easy prompt), I realized that in order to be a great writer, I had to dig deep. I had to open myself up, trust my feelings as they were placed onto paper, and appreciate my readers for understanding the crazy that is me. I like to think of this new-found self writer as someone who has layers of texture; crunchy, sweet, dense, savory, tasty, complex, and simple. Some say, “out with the old, in with the new”. I say, “my progress as a writer reminds me of a fried Oreo; the textures correspond to whatever taste I want”. Delicious.

YOLO/YALA

It’s 3AM on a particularly foggy night in November of 2012. I’m driving through southern Ohio and I’ve got three other passengers in the van. I’m the only one awake, which makes sense considering the fact that we spent the last three exhausting days competing in a mock trial tournament somewhere in the Northeast. I’m the only one who can keep my eyes open at 3AM, so I’m assigned the late night shift. I’m driving about 40MPH on a 70MPH road because it’s so difficult to see. I have the music on, a cup of coffee, and the air conditioning on high to keep me awake.

It’s such low visibility that I didn’t see it coming at all. Next thing I know, there’s a deer running in front of the car and the van rocks as I hit it. There’s a sickening thud. Everyone  jolts awake, and they’re asking things like “what happened? was that a pothole? is the car okay?” I respond with “well, that was a deer and I’m pulling off at the next exit to make sure the car is okay.” We pull into a gas station. While another team member calls the police to file a report, the other team members and I observe the damage. It’s only a broken headlight, but it still looks somewhat gory. The broken bits of headlight still remaining have a good amount of blood and fur on them and I can’t help but wonder if the deer got away.

Now it’s a particularly sweltering night in August of 2013 and I’m on the balcony of a high rise NYC apartment somewhere in the Upper West Side. I was there with a friend of mine, Patrick*, and his fraternity brother, Ron. Patrick and I had been friends all summer but I had only just met Ron that evening. Anyway, what I remember most is the view, and it was dizzyingly beautiful. High rises lined the whole street and lights lit up the sky. Ron looks out at the building across the street and points at a balcony. He says “see that balcony right there? Some woman was on her first date with this guy and she actually fell off the balcony all the way down to the ground.” I had to ask. “Well, was she okay?” He laughed and just casually said “nahh, she was most definitely dead.” I just stared at him, stunned at his nonchalant attitude towards the poor woman’s death. Ron went on “I mean…imagine being that guy. Go on a first date, and she falls to her death. I’d never go on another date again.”

These are the two stories that first come to mind when I think of those particular periods of my life. Immediately after I realized this, I was utterly horrified. Why was it that I picked out such morbid memories? Am I a complete psychopath? Last time I checked, I’m quite normal as far as normalcy standards go.

Thankfully, there’s another explanation. My greatest fear is death, which is also probably common in the general population. We exercise, wear seat belts, and find religion all in the hopes that we can stop death from happening or that we will continue on afterwards, whatever that may look like. I grapple with the idea that my lifetime is only limited to a mere 80 years, 100 if I do things right. The way I see it, there are two ways to treat death: confront it or avoid it. The only way I can confront it is by writing about it. It’s my truest and most fluid form of communication and writing about it is a lot less daunting than talking about it. On the other hand, I also use escapism as a way to avoid it. That’s where reading comes in. I do A LOT of reading. Sci fi and biography are my favorite genres because they seem to be the most potent when it comes to escaping the real world. I have the chance to think about someone else’s life entirely or imagine a place where living forever is a reality.

Of course, I realize the importance of taking action to confront something so difficult like death. So many before me in much more trying situations have done it, so it shouldn’t be so difficult for me. That’s where this last semester of college comes in. It’s a major time for me to consider the habits, friends, hobbies, and ideals I’d like to continue having after college. It seems that time is of the essence, especially since I’ve lived about a quarter of my life out. But the truth is, it’s almost debilitating to make those choices.

So…YOLO? I don’t really know. Maybe I should just take some advice from M.I.A instead.

*Note: names were changed

Does blogging’s informality drive its formality?

I enjoyed each of the three articles we read. However, the only one I vividly remembered was Sullivan’s “Why I Blog.” Perhaps it was his laid-back tone–a way of representing blogging’s essence– that drew me into the piece. Although I’ve had minimal experience with blogging, I agreed with Sullivan’s description of what defines a blog.

It’s informal.

It’s written quickly.

It incorporates links and images.

As I read through the article, I found myself agreeing to these concepts without a second thought. They’re all pretty basic blogging concepts. I’m pretty we can all agree that blogging’s a tad more informal and can incorporate more technology.

But as I neared the article’s end, I reached one of Sullivan’s points that got me thinking. The haste with which blogs are written creates some interesting (if that’s the right word) effects. Since bloggers must immediately write posts, they don’t have time to become experts in every topic they write about. Sullivan verifies this, saying “A blogger will notice this almost immediately upon starting. Some e-mailers, unsurprisingly, know more about a subject than the blogger does.”

This creates quite a difficult position. Being a writer, a blogger’s job is to convey an idea accurately and effectively. However, to really succeed in the blogging world, these writers must publish their content immediately, running the risk of providing incorrect content for their readers.

Bloggers must be under serious pressure. I mean you’re going out of your way to write something, and someone writes to you saying how much your article sucks.

But as I continued reading the sentence, Sullivan explained the benefits stemming from a blogger with a lack of subject knowledge. “They [people more knowledgable in a field than a blogger] will send links, stories, and facts, challenging the blogger’s view of the world, sometimes outright refuting it, but more frequently adding context and nuance and complexity.” Sure, it sucks to hear that your argument is logically less superior to another, but at the end of the day, this caused you to learn something. More likely than not (as I’m sure you’ll correct your readers) you can make a new post clarifying whatever you learned.

If you held a misconception on an issue, I’m sure that someone else reading your blog did too. In fact, more likely than not, I’m sure a lot of people reading your blog held the same opinion. Herein lies blogging’s strengths: its ability to self-correct. A post leads to a conversation, and a conversation leads to sharing and revising ideas. It’s almost as if a blog post’s “final draft” occurs outside the confines of its words. It’s the sparked conversation that leads to a more thorough understanding of a topic.

And if blogging truly revolves around this self-correcting tendency, doesn’t this informality drive blogging closer to a definition of writing? Since writing intends to express and explain ideas, simply writing a post on a topic opens the door to a vast community that can build and clarify ideas.

As I conclude my first blog post, I won’t lie; I don’t think much of what I’ve said applies to this post. I doubt Sullivan will find this blog, and even if he did, I can’t imagine him needing to clarify my ideas. The point, however, is that he could. Any of you could for that matter. Blogs don’t necessarily need to be corrected. They could, after all, state an all-encompassing, accurate opinion. What’s important is they can be, and knowing that perfection and blogger aren’t the same will help me take more risks throughout the semester.

Something Old, Something New

No, I’m not getting married – I just thought this was a cute title.

A lot can change in 18 months. A year and a half ago, my biggest decision was what to make for breakfast, and now I am trying to decide what on earth to do with the rest of my life and how to do it! A year and a half ago, I was just beginning the minor in writing. I was just beginning to explore my own writing style, why I write, and what I write about. Now, in my last semester of the writing minor and my last semester as a college student, I am confident in my writing, using it daily to express myself. One specific memory stands out to me from the time period I was enrolled in Writing 220.

I remember walking up the stairs to my apartment building at 611 Church street like I did every day after class. I always took the stairs up. The elevator was used when we didn’t want to run down the stairs in heels, or if we had friends over, because the staircase was locked. On this particular Wednesday, I ended class at 1 PM, and arrived home earlier than any of my six roommates. I rushed into my room – a double in the back of the apartment – plopped down my backpack and of course, changed quickly out of my jeans and into my sweatpants. Looking back on my decision to leave the door unlocked, I don’t know if this was a mistake on my part or an intentional doing considering we were not accustomed to locking the door during the day. I heard the door open and shouted “hello” thinking one of my roommates would respond. When there was no response, I walked around the apartment into the view of the door and saw an unfamiliar man staring back at me. He shouted “im gonna get you” and turned around immediately to exit my apartment. I called the police and my roommates, and an elevator code was installed later that week to insure this never happened again!

Needless to say, I learned my lesson. This incident may have played a role in the immense amount of anxiety I now have staying home alone, checking the door-lock four to five times each time I enter my house!

Fast forward ten months, and my memories have changed a great deal, along with my outlook on life and thus, my writing. This summer memory came to me quickly, as it was the most carefree feeling in the most unlikely of environments.

It was a warm night in late August, and I had been traveling through Asia with my family. After an incredible 8-course meal in Tokyo, we slipped into a taxi to bring us back to our hotel. Everything in Tokyo is significantly far away because the city is so spread out, and none of the taxi drivers speak more than a word or two of English. We hoped our driver knew how to get back to our hotel, considering the numerous transportation and communication issues we had run into throughout the last month. My dad was adjusting his seat and the driver tried to tell him, both in Japanese and using hand motions, to buckle up his seatbelt. Thinking that the driver was trying to explain to him how to adjust his seat, my dad responded “No thanks i’m ok.” I started laughing at my dad, which caused my mom to start laughing, and the cab driver started laughing at the sound of my moms high pitch laugh. Within seconds, all five of us were laughing hysterically, the driver wiping tears from his eyes every time the car stopped. Oddly enough, I was the only person in the car who knew why the laughter had started in the first place. My younger brother used this story to write one of his college essays (I was the editor) about the importance of appreciating other cultures and the universality of laughter.

I am attaching a video I took of this moment. You will hear my my mom’s, as well as the cab driver’s laughs.

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On the resonance of Orwell and Sullivan

Maybe I myself am generalizing out of my own sense of ego — that same ego that drives George Orwell and so many self-reflective writers — but it seems to me that all writers must confront the question: why do I write? More often, I ask myself how the hell am I going to turn writing, I mean writing in its purest, pen-to-paper or fingers-to-keys sense, into a sustainable career? I’m sure we all do.

What Orwell tells us is, like Nike, we’ll just do it. He argues that writing is not motivated by money or a job or even for public service. It is inherently selfish in nature, so selfish that this burning desire can often overwhelm the person itself — the need to write is so much so that it may, after all, hinder more economically fruitful job opportunities that have nothing to do with prose. “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness,” he says, warning us that this is not going to be fun. His honesty resonates as both daunting and comforting at the same time. I know now that I am not alone, up at night tossing and turning over my writing.

This is my first blog post ever.

So when Sullivan says, “unlike any single piece of print journalism, its borders are extremely porous and its truth inherently transitory,” I am immediately drawn to the form. As a sports writer for the Michigan Daily, I have been subjected first and foremost to AP style guides — the Oxford comma, the long dash and the use of “just” to indicate a few and “only” for one. Furthermore each and every article I have written, from a game story to a profile or column, has been put through the meat grinder that is three (four at times) rounds of edits that exceed simple comma and spelling changes. For the ego-driven writer, this process was most painful with my first few articles but still stings each time. Why would I subject myself to that, too? Ask Orwell.

Like Sullivan says, journalism is extremely porous. In sports journalism, specifically I’ve seen a column written as a letter to Denard Robinson, a game preview written as a Christmas song and features that have made me cry. The wiggle room within journalism for creativity is truly what you make it, which is something I am fond of. However, blogs, like Sullivan argues, give the author the power to simply think and say without the rounds of edits that are associated with journalistic writing. He says that blogs still hold their writers to the same responsibility as journalists, by virtue of the internet and the freedom possessed by those commenting. What’s more, blogging allows action and reaction — for a writer to see or hear something and to respond without having to back up a claim with anything more than thoughts and feelings.

I think his most outstanding line is: “No columnist or reporter or novelist will have his minute shifts or constant small contradictions exposed as mercilessly as a blogger’s are.” Well, I guess now I’ll just go cry myself to sleep. He’s right. Journalists are also fact checking and using the politically correct terms to describe scenes without emotion or bias. When I sit atop Yost Ice Arena, I don’t get to write about my clenching fists as the Michigan hockey team skates towards its opponent in overtime.

I hope that blogging will help me to unleash the inner mystery that lies within my writing, for me to be able to write about the penalty shot or the big fight through my eyes and words, and not those of the AP style guide.

On Metawriting: Orwell, Didion and Sullivan

I was required to read Orwell’s essay as a junior in high school in honors English, and I don’t remember much about he said, only that I enjoyed it. Now presented with the opportunity to refresh my memory and through more experienced eyes, I can better understand what Orwell was trying to get at with his piece. As a long-time fan of Orwell’s 1984, I found the fact that he did not consider himself a writer until later in his life even though he participated in “literary activities” quite surprising and uncomfortable. Where does a voice find itself if it does not get to begin developing upon learning of the English language early on in life? I found his honesty with the process as humbling, perhaps because I have put him on a pedestal of whom I consider to be a great writer, but also because it takes much courage to go out and be so self-critical of your own work in the middle of your writing career. Bashedly describing, “every book is a failure” about his own writing seems overcritical to me. How can he consider his books failures when they are praised the world over?

Orwell’s essay really pioneered metawriting, and I really enjoyed his motivations lists all writers possess, although I disagreed that all writing has political purpose. I never had considered my own writing to be tied to a political purpose. I write for classes or for my own personal benefit, not for a political purpose. However, I could see why he chose to put this on his list since much of his writing was very political as well as other writers of the time.

In Didion’s piece, I was confused by how she described herself as unable to think but able to write by saying, “I knew I couldn’t think. All I knew then was what I couldn’t do. All I knew then was what I wasn’t, and it took me some years to discover what I was. Which was a writer.” Writing takes a tremendous amount of thinking in order to mash words together into coherent sentences. Of course, putting thoughts to paper doesn’t necessarily equate to writing, but ultimately writing is what thinking becomes. Her way of describing this can’t think/can write epiphany didn’t seem right to me.

I absolutely loved the way she described the process of her writing, that the picture determines the arrangement of words. “It tells you, you don’t tell it,” she writes. I resonated with this because it made complete sense to me. I often find myself converting images into words with my writing, and the images help guide me through that process.

Of the three pieces, I found myself least relating to Sullivan’s blog piece. His description of blogging as a “spontaneous expression of instant thought” made the intimacy I experience with the private nature of my own writing invalid. His unique perspective of someone who has been blogging since its origins with the spread of the Internet allows me to understand his point of view and why he finds it so rewarding. Indeed, the personality and human brand that emerges from the art was little accessible before the days of the blog when people had to send manuscripts to editors in hopes of getting their work published. His ability to show how blogging connects voices, sparks debate and creates a space for instant thought and communication resonates well with me. He also is able to value the art of reading words on paper, and how a mix of digital and print media should coexist alongside each other instead of digital media completely destroying whatever writing we have left on paper. Also, I found his dissection of the word blog itself extremely interesting, since I never thought about it myself. It made me wonder of the origins of other words I take for granted, like Twitter and Instagram. Surely, they carry similar origin stories.

Overall, the three pieces shared a similar thread in that they take the voices of passionate writers and a blogger to say why they love what they do and what motivates them. It’s not just enough for them to practice what they do—writing, they need to write about writing too. While I don’t know if I’m at that quite of level of enthusiasm for the art, I can surely appreciate the points these authors so eloquently make.

Painfully Regimented

Now that Fall semester has drawn to a close, I’ve had a bit of time to reflect on the classes I took and the work I did. I once again was unable to fit a writing class into my schedule, but it turned out that one of my core classes for Ross was a business communication class (LHC 350).

However, everything that I wrote for this business communication class was painfully regimented. There was a strict format for the reflections that we had to write about the persuasive presentations we gave in class. It was called a PAL: Porch, Action, Layout. It was regimented. It was uncreative. Sure, it forced me to let the reader know exactly what I was going to talk about, but it was boring! So, once again, I’m thrown into making a comparison to the classes I take for this writing minor, where I can experiment and discover new ways to write. Of course, there is a time and place for everything and the precise, concise writing templates that I had to use in the business communication class were certainly merited. However, this class simply got me wondering: what role can more creative communication play in the business setting? Certainly advertisements and marketing campaigns make use of creative writing, but these sorts of classes don’t seem to be taught in business schools. And maybe they should be.