Food, or Poetry?

A few weeks ago, my mother and grandmother flew into town for a weekend visit. I obviously had to take them to Café Zola, my absolute favorite breakfast spot in Ann Arbor. A few minutes after taking our seats, my grandmother shook her head in frustration. “This menu is really enormous,” she complained. “How could anyone ever choose what to order from all of this?”

Being the expert that I am on breakfast foods (I worked at the Original Pancake House for four years), I encouraged her to skip reading the menu and just order one of the waffles (I encourage you all to try them as well – they’re made with Greek yogurt, which makes for a tangy cake-like texture that is really out-of-this-world). Probably accepting that her granddaughter must obviously be as bright as she, my grandmother promptly shut the menu and stowed her reading glasses. And then she said something quite interesting: “You know, my friend’s grandson is writing an honors thesis about those.”

Wait a minute. A thesis about waffles?

“No,” she laughed. “About restaurant menus!”

How curious, a thesis about menu writing! Upon further reflection, however, it’s not all that outlandish. Even though I’ve never thought about it while reading a menu (hunger and all of the possibilities of food in front of me usually trump everything else in those moments), the people who write restaurant menus have to employ many of the same rhetorical choices and strategies we’ve come to know and love as writers of academic papers and new media. Before you continue reading this post, I encourage you to read food writer and broadcaster Simon Majumdar’s rant about menu writing (“…with the modern prevalence of bar snacks, small plates, tasting menus, family style sharing platters and happy hours, you need a degree from Harvard to provide an algorithm for ordering successfully”).

 

In the name of objectivity (I don’t share Majumdar’s passionate albeit humorous anger), we can think about writing menus in three ways:

Theme

Every restaurant menu has a theme: the colors, layout, pictures and fonts contained within usually complement the restaurant’s theme and decor. The menu’s theme should not detract from the text, and the text should be large enough so that anyone would be able to read it. We have made many of the same thematic choices when making (for example) PowerPoint presentations. Choosing which pictures to include and how large to make the text are important choices in making sure that the content is effectively communicated to our audience.

Layout

Most restaurant menus that I come across are separated into logical, chronological categories that flow similar to the order that the standard meal occurs (i.e. appetizers, followed by entrees, followed by dessert). Shouldn’t our academic papers be structured in much the same way? We have to feed the brain of our readers with information that is presented in a chronological and logical way, otherwise they are likely to experience some confusion and won’t know where to start or how to make connections.

 Grammar and Spelling

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Just like any piece of academic writing, if a menu has typographical errors and misspellings, it conveys lack of effort and detracts from the content.

And now, you will view every menu you read for the rest of your life as one big rhetorical strategy. You’re welcome.

#Sandy

As everyone who is not currently living under a rock knows, the effects of Hurricane Sandy this week have been utterly devastating. As a native of New Jersey, it has been particularly difficult for me to see all of the pictures on Facebook, Twitter, and the news of places where many of my favorite childhood memories took place completely submerged in water. I am so thankful that my family is safe and sound, and has only had to deal with a power outage (which will likely continue for the next week or so). Unfortunately, there are many families who have not been as lucky, and my thoughts go out to any of you who have relatives or friends on the East Coast who have been affected by the storm.

In my opinion, one of the most interesting effects of a storm of this magnitude is its effect on communication and entertainment. Over 1.5 million homes are left without power (read: no electricity or cell phone service). My mom actually prepared for the outage by downloading several movies onto her iPad, and I’m sure many other people had the same idea. Many of us feel dependent on all of our technologies to entertain ourselves and communicate with each other. It is a sad question to have to ask, but how would you prepare for ten straight days without a phone or a television? I know that I could probably survive on a few good books, but other people are much more reliant on their technological luxuries – which have certainly become necessities for many – to live their lives.

The social media reaction to Sandy has been mind-blowing, to say the least. Have any of you noticed how many fake pictures, taken from movies such as The Day After Tomorrow, have been posted as if they were real-life photographs of Sandy’s aftermath? Of course, during major news events, the dissemination of fake and photoshopped pictures throughout social media is almost always a guarantee. What do you think is the motivation behind posting fake pictures of this storm? Do they make you think about events like Hurricane Sandy in a different way?

Social media has also decided to incorporate humor as a way of dealing with such a gloomy situation. Consider, for example, the many Twitter accounts that have cropped up as a result of the hurricane (at this moment, @AHurricaneSandy currently has 238,689 followers reading her every tweet; according to her latest tweet, Sandy is apparently attempting to blow Romney into Canada). And, of course, you’ve all seen the GIFs superimposing Sandy from Grease (or Spongebob’s friend Sandy, the upbeat cartoon squirrel) on top of views of the hurricane.

I haven’t quite decided how to feel about these social media reactions; all I’m hoping for is that the storm will soon pass, and that all those affected receive the help they need.

Why I Write 2.0

The last time I posted to this blog, I was celebrating the end of the e-portfolio. What have I been up to since then? Well…

I returned to my lovely home in New Jersey…

I took the dreaded LSAT….

… and I got an internship at Vanity Fair – after showing them pieces from my e-portfolio and posts from this blog! – where a big part of my job entailed blogging! Certainly, the process of writing for a blog as important as Vanity Fair‘s was a tiny bit different than the kind I went through to post to the MIW blog (i.e., posts often took days to plan and research for, and I consulted with an editor on a daily basis), but I’m so happy to have had the experience with this blog under my belt. I wasn’t intimidated by an online presence, and I was already knowledgeable about blogging conventions and styles before I even started the internship.

Months later, I am enrolled in Writing 300, the Seminar in Peer Tutoring. This class is the precursor to Writing 301, Directed Peer Tutoring. (Have you ever gone to see a peer tutor on the ground floor of Angell Hall late at night when a paper was due ten hours later? Next semester, that will be me! … The tutor, not the student. Hopefully.) We just got assigned our first major essay, and you’ll never guess the first question in the prompt: “Why do you write?”

To all the Minors from last winter and fall… remember that one? It was so strange to revisit what I wrote to answer that same exact essay question last semester. I think returning to anything we’ve written in the past is strange, because as writers, we are always changing our attitudes toward and approaches to writing. I’m really interested to see where I’ll take this essay, and how it will compare to the one I had written last semester!

We Are The Champions

WE DID IT!

Congratulations to everyone for completing their Winter 2012 semester; it’s been such a pleasure getting to know everyone and working on each other’s writing these past few months. Here is a link to my e-portfolio.

I remember reading posts from the Fall 2011 cohort about having completed their e-portfolios, and I can now say I fully understand their pain. Creating this portfolio was such an arduous process, because we all want to create the best representations of ourselves through our writing and really show what we’ve learned about new media in this one assignment. It will definitely be interesting to update and revise this portfolio in the future when I’ve produced more writing and have even more to say.

But for now, it’s time to cram for my last Econ final.

Have a great summer, everyone!!

T.G.I.A.

Thank God It’s April!

Does anyone else feel this way, or is it just me? Of course I’m sad that my junior year is ending (I never want to graduate, go away real world!) but, in a few short week’s we’ll finally get to relax and appreciate the fruits of all our hard labor these past 4 months, and I honestly can’t wait!

Every time I come home from school my puppy Buster takes a nap on my suitcase.

To put it bluntly, being a student in Writing 200 made me happy to be a writer. It reminded me why I love it, and really how fulfilling it can be when you work with that title instead of against it. I’ve been so inspired by our writing assignments (e.g., I learned so much about how my life has shaped my writing from our first “Why I Write” essay) and by the people we’ve met in the “How I Write” meetings. I’m actually sort of looking forward to completing my E-Portfolio now that I have a better understanding of myself as a writer (although I know that by next weekend I’ll seriously be biting my tongue for having said such a blasphemous thing). One of my friends – who is a History major – actually looks forward to his final exams, because in his words “they put together everything we’ve learned over the semester and make us think about it in different ways. How cool!” Yeah, my eyes are rolling too. But now, in a way I see his point. Our E-Portfolio is a way to think about all of the ways we’ve studied writing and put ourselves to the test to aptly and creatively show what we know about our writing and present that knowledge effectively.

I think that with all of my exams, papers, projects, presentations, etc. etc. etc. things coming up as the semester closes, I’ll have to remind myself (as everyone should!) to stay calm. We’re in college! Let’s have a little fun while we’re still here. It’s not everyday that we get to be in classes as cool as Writing 200.

– Allie

The Turnip Princess

A few weeks ago during one of our big group discussions, Shelley brought up a fascinating new discovery of fairytales (500, to be exact) that have just been unearthed after 150 years by historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth in Germany. I had heard of the news before, but I couldn’t for the life of me find the exact article I had read when I learned about it. But guess where I found it?

…Ashton Kutcher’s twitter. Thanks, man!

Anyway, I reread the article last night and read one of the fairytales in Von Schönwerth’s collection (which interestingly enough is called “Scarab Beetle” because scarabs bury their eggs — their most valuable possessions — just as fairytales hold ancient wisdom and knowledge, the “most valuable treasure known to man”). The fairytale I read is called “The Turnip Princess,” which tells the story of a young prince who meets a cursed witch who tells him how to meet the beautiful wife of his future (…by hiding a nail underneath a turnip). If you read this short fairytale, you might notice some of the same things I did the first time around: the translation seems a bit… off. I’m no expert in German (auf wiedersehen!) but I can still tell when reading the English translation that this fairytale was definitely not meant to be told in English. For example, several word choices and the sentence structure seem very awkward, particularly when read out loud.

“So the moral of the story is that stabbing people with rusty nails is the key to a healthy relationship” (see link below)

I think the problem with translating fairytales (and poetry, too) is threefold: the words and the meaning of those words are immediately changed, the flow of the story is made a bit awkward, and the overall “magic” factor is lost as a result of these changes.  When my parents used to read me fairytales in bed, I would always love to imagine losing myself in these fantastical worlds of angelic princesses and glittering mermaids, wicked queens and romping unicorns. But the magic was totally lost on me when I read “The Turnip Princess,” and I think this says a lot about how important language is to telling stories. Isn’t it strange how you can be telling the same story in another language, yet when conveyed in a different language, the story completely changes? No doubt, the message contained within the framework of the story is the same, but the feelings and emotions that different words and the sounds and flow they stir up are so very different.

All of this makes me curious about Von Schönwerth’s intentions: was his target audience children, or adults? I can definitely tell that he didn’t gloss up the stories or interpret them according to any personal agenda; he translated these stories factually and faithfully. But what if he didn’t? Would that make them more enjoyable? Ironically more truthful?

I really encourage you all to try reading fairytale if you can spare two minutes. It makes reading responses like this one worth the laugh.

The Hollywood Writer

Over spring break, I found some time to catch up on some of my favorite TV shows, something I never have time for while school is in session. I also started watching a new show – new for me, at least, as it’s been around since 2007 – called Californication, starring David Duchovny as Hank Moody (and if you watch Sex & the City, Hank’s agent is played by Evan Handler, Charlotte’s husband). While I was home over break, I managed to watch close to 15 episodes (don’t judge, they are all less than 30 minutes long).

I think one of the reasons I fell in love with this show almost immediately is because its protagonist is a writer. Hank Moody is pessimistic, self-loathing, brutally honest and loving, and simultaneously hopeful and disappointed as the show progresses. Movies and TV shows centered around writers as protagonists are not rarities in themselves, but hardly ever do we successfully see beyond the pessimistic façade and into the intimate, personal lives of these writers in such depth. Appropriately, this show happens to be extremely well written.

What’s the flaw here?

Unfortunately, this show couldn’t be any further from reality than Star Wars.

Hank Moody writes one novel, and becomes an overnight sensation. A young girl steals one of his manuscripts, publishes it, and likewise experiences overnight fame. The two writers live in architectural paradise in the richest corner of LA. This never happens, or it happens so rarely that it’s not even worth debate.

Perhaps this is what makes the show so successful: people want Hank’s life (Hey, I wouldn’t mind becoming rich and famous just for my writing, would you?), so the writers of Californication decided to capitalize on this writer’s fantasy that undeniably appeals to the majority population of non-writers as well.

But this begs the question: why does Hollywood (specifically, Hollywood writers) get the real-life writer so wrong?

Not all male writers are as attractive as Duchovny, and I would guess that most would disapprove of his seduction techniques (namely, picking up 16-year-old girls by reading his own books in a local Borders). Furthermore, many real-life novelists are successful and prolific writers, while movie or TV novelists are almost always blocked (or complete failures).

It’s clear that the life of a writer remains one of the few mysteries that Hollywood has yet to truly unravel.

The Personal Statement

This week was pretty scary for me. I met with my LSA advisor to discuss graduation… and it turns out I might be graduating in December….!!! Did time really fly by that quickly?! Is anyone else as scared as I am to actually leave this dreamy little bubble and enter the real world? I shudder at the thought.

 

Anyway, by the end of our meeting was I hit head on by about three hundred different things I have to make sure I get done over the next two months to make sure that I actually graduate. It turns out that my LSA advisor is also a pre-law advisor, and since I will be applying to law schools in the fall, we discussed what I should be thinking about before I start to apply. And something came up that I have been dreading for quite a long time: the personal statement. Yikes.

 

It feels like I’m applying to colleges all over again. What makes me unique? Do I have any gripping sob stories, any adventurous or unusual experiences that will set me apart from the thousands of other kids applying for the same slot? What angle should I take when trying to essentially sell myself through writing, once again? No matter how experienced a writer you may be, no matter how many times you’ve had to prove your worth in words, the personal statement never gets easy, particularly in the context of graduate school admissions. Is anyone else out there struggling with how they’re going to approach writing another one of these in the very near future?

 

I have to apologize for the shortness of my post this week, it is 1 A.M. and I’ve just arrived from the airport after a 3 consecutive all-nighters and a 3-hour delay trying to get home for spring break. Off I go to get some much needed zzzzz’s. Hope you all have a great week off!

 

Until next time!

 

– Allie

Porcelain and Alabaster…

Porcelain and Alabaster…

 

…are Perry Janes’s two least favorite words in the English language. Finally, someone else who has a weird relationship with words – either a strong aversion to some or an oddly powerful interest in the effects of others. Last night, Perry said that he loves “science” words and his poetry is often really scientific because he loves the science lexicon – it clearly creates some pretty awesome writing opportunities. His discussion made me think of how much I loved the book Stiff by Mary Roach, a book that explores the strange lives of our bodies postmortem. I think I loved the book so much for the same reason Perry enjoys writing scientific poetry: the research that is involved and the strange world the words inside present makes it so interesting to read. If you’ve ever wondered what happens to your body when you die (and what people can do with it!), it’s a really good/funny/informative read and I highly recommend it:

I think what I appreciated the most last night was how open both writers were. Melody and Perry were so honest and willing to share their writing processes and how they got to where they are now (well hey, if you won 6 Hopwood awards as an undergraduate like Perry, wouldn’t you be proud to brag?). It’s such an amazing and intimate experience to hear a working or successful writer talk about their experiences, especially if you’ve read something they’ve written and want to get inside the mind of the person who wrote it. I was also appalled at how much they each had to say about their own writing – could you talk about your writing for an hour to complete strangers? Perhaps my incredulity is a sign of how I still have a lot to learn about my own writing, which is something I think we’re all starting to do with this class.

 

Last night, Shelley asked Perry something along the lines of, “What is enjoyable about a life dedicated to writing?” and Perry responded: “Well… I’m not quite sure it’s enjoyable.” I think our experience of writing the “Why I Write” essay was helpful in understanding why someone so successful in writing would say such a thing. Even if it’s not enjoyable, there is a reason we continue to do it, whether it’s to get us thinking, to cope with life experience, to relieve stress, etc. Writing isn’t easy… but isn’t it so worth it?

G-I-A-N-T-S! (…and a Second Look at Blogging)

When I first read Sullivan’s piece, I was truthfully intimidated by this whole idea of blogging. It was a completely foreign medium to me (save for a few blog posts here and there that I had to do for assignments in high school) and I wasn’t exactly sure how to feel about it. The whole idea of displaying my thoughts on a subject on a public forum seemed really daring (and honestly quite scary) to me, let alone the fact that we’d have to put ourselves out there once a week. A few weeks ago, I read through Sullivan’s experiences with judgmental and relentless readers who sent him thousands of e-mails on the regular, and the constant anxiety about keeping up with blog posts… this wasn’t exactly a self-esteem boost.

 

However, I have to agree with the general consensus of the class – getting to know each other on a casual level, and creating conversations with each other about our common experiences, has been really worthwhile. I actually really enjoy reading everyone’s posts and seeing their take on readings, ideas, etc., and hearing what they have to say about my own opinions. I think it was a good thing to be out of my element, something that’s always a possibility with writing; in the end, it turned out to be something really valuable. What’s more, the influx of comments on our individual blog posts isn’t even close to comparable to what Sullivan receives on a daily basis, so that intimidation factor is reduced exponentially.

 

For Essay 2, I’m planning on repurposing an essay I wrote for my English 325 class last semester that I called “Thanks for the Tip”; in a nutshell, the essay is about my life as a summer waitress at the Original Pancake House, and how I am rarely compensated enough for the time and effort I put into the job. It was sort of autobiographical, but I’d like the repurposed essay to have a wider-reaching readership. Essay 2 will be somewhat of a research essay that focuses on the psychology of tipping – what causes people to give lower/higher tips?

 

Obviously, many blogs on the web these days are academic/research-based; I would imagine the readership of these blogs is certainly more critical than those who spend more time on sports/fashion/food blogs. Then again, the flexible nature of blogging can also be way more informal, giving a lot more slack to opinion, and even the occasional typo (something I really can’t be too careful about with essay, unfortunately…).

 

I always find myself thinking about how (frighteningly) honest blogs are compared to most of the writing we’re used to. I think most of us had weird feelings about posting on here every week, but I also think it’s safe to say that for the most part we’ve enjoyed contributing to this blog and reading what all of our classmates are thinking. Again, taking ourselves outside of our element can be a really good thing… and a really good thing for all of you who get to see my awesome gifs each week…

 

Yay G-Men!! 🙂