Color Me Purple

One of the first things that stuck out to me while going through the e-portfolios and blog posts of last semester’s cohort was this line:

“…In any aspect of life it’s important to be a versatile person.” 

I agree with this 100%. One of the most challenging tasks for prospective employees in today’s job market is showing how they are significantly different from others and how versatile they are, and are often faced with a similarly difficult task of compiling a concise but creative and representative set — in a portfolio, resume, what have you — of their accomplishments and past work. I think working on this e-portfolio will be a great experience and, in the end, a big advantage with respect to showcasing our writing skills and  technological know-how.

 

That said, I explored these e-portfolios keeping in mind the suggestions Tierney and Pearson laid out in the piece my blog group read for Monday. For each e-portfolio, I tried to ask myself what the creator’s intent was, clicking around and revising my “reading” of the portfolios at every turn: Why did they include this picture? Why did they include this quote? How did they decide on each piece of writing to include? What does this say about what/how they think of themselves as a writer? Each question led to a revision of purpose as I read; even though it’s sometimes hard to actively think about what you’re reading this way, I realized you do get much more out of the whole experience when you ask questions as you go.

 

I could definitely tell that many of the students had a particular agenda with their e-portfolios: many focused on the artistic and aesthetic value of their portfolios, which is just really awesome. Others were heavily research-focused, with the bulk of their showcased work emphasizing their academic work. I think I’m going to try to have to strike a balance between making my e-portfolio aesthetically pleasing as well as diverse; what else am I going to want to show off besides essays I’ve written for classes? This is going to be something I’ll have to really think about as the semester progresses…

 

I’m really excited to see where my e-portfolio goes by the end of the semester. I hope it looks as cool as most of last semester’s do; they’ve definitely set the bar high for us!

Also… did anyone else realize we could use colors here???!!!

Chew on That!

In “Toward a Composing Model of Reading,” Tierney and Pearson argue that both writers and readers “compose meaning” through five effective functions of the composing process: planning, drafting, aligning, revising, and monitoring.

 

I swear, these guys are in my head. They definitely know what’s up in there more than I do.

 

This article is one of those cases where the author explains something that you do without you even realizing you do it. I had no idea that I even had what you might call a writing process (can sitting in front of a computer constantly hitting the “delete” key for 3 hours be considered a process?) until I read through the authors’ meticulously constructed explanation of the writing process. For example, even if we have no idea what we’re going to write in our first drafts right away, we at least have a small idea of where we’d like it to go (e.g., I want to tell people the story of how I can pick up seagulls at the beach [I’m a real bird whisperer]) – this is the planning stage. But the function that made me realize the most about myself as a writer was the process of alignment, the stance a writer takes in collaboration with their audience and the subsequent role the writer assumes as they proceed with their writing. We all take stances when we write, be it persuasive, emotional, intimate, or even neutral.  We then decide how we want to convey our message depending on that relationship with our readers, whether through dialogue, characters, etc. This idea makes me think ahead to the repurposing assignment we’re about to get: how will changing the purpose/intended audience/structure of our own writing affect the original message?

And because I’ve read at least two posts so far this week with cute animals, I’m going to continue the trend…

I wonder if he bites off more than he can chew in his first drafts, too…

The most interesting part of this article for me was the idea that readers make revisions too (what?!). The authors claim that “most readers view reading competency as the ability to read rapidly a single text once with maximum recall.” That is, if you don’t fully understand/can’t interpret what you’re reading the first time through, you’ve done it wrong. …Have I been reading wrongly my entire life?? Tierney and Pearson argue that “competency” is actually comprised of an active process in which the reader “pauses, rethinks, and revises” like a writer, rereading with a different purpose and asking questions from different perspectives with each read.

 

I don’t know about you but, doesn’t that seem a little… tiring?

 

Maybe that’s just me being lazy, but I consider myself a very conscious reader; I don’t really agree that I’m an “incompetent” reader if I read through something once and feel like I have a good grasp on what I’ve read. Even though my goals might change while reading something (i.e., I start reading with the intent to get through a popular book everyone tells me I must read then actually start to get pretty invested in the characters, sometimes even feeling like I’m a part of their lives), is this really “revising”? The idea that writers and readers can both make revisions to the same piece is a really interesting concept, though, and I appreciate Tierney and Pearson for bring up an idea I’ve never considered.

 

In closing, if you weren’t assigned this piece to read, I highly encourage you to read it anyway. There’s some pretty enlightening stuff in these pages, and you might learn a lot about your own writing process, which is always a plus.

 

What I imagine Tierney & Pearson looked like when writing this article with each other.

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

My Prezi Adventure

Having mastered the all-powerful Powerpoint presentation over the course of my high school and undergraduate careers, I decided that I wanted to try something different for my final presentation in my Spanish poetry class. I had always heard of the program “Prezi” but never actually tried it. What distinguishes a Prezi from a Powerpoint presentation is the user’s ability to navigate and zoom in on/pan around a virtual canvas akin to a whiteboard.

 

So, last night, equipped with a Skinny Vanilla Latte and a fully-charged laptop, I spent a full two hours in Starbucks learning the ins-and-outs of the Prezi program, learning how to create frames and layers and insert digital images and videos for my presentation. After that, I tried my hand at creating my own Prezi, and I’m actually pretty happy with the results!

 

You may or may not need a Prezi account to view it, but here is the link to my very first Prezi presentation:

http://prezi.com/ehhqeatnkxmq/present/?auth_key=6r2dacb&follow=89flsnretbvh

 

If any of you have a Prezi, what do you think of it? Is it better than Powerpoint? I personally got a little dizzy the first time I watched one, but after a lot of time and practice I think my first try went pretty well!

 

If any of you want to try something different than a Powerpoint and create  a Prezi, I encourage you to go to prezi.com and try one out! It’s a really cool interactive way to present a project to your class.

 

– Allison

“Ode to My Socks”

One of my favorite Latin American poets of all time is Pablo Neruda, a writer from Chile who wrote several odes to pay homage to some of the most ordinary material objects of daily existence, including the sea, salt, and even onions! One of my favorite poems by Neruda is called “Ode to My Socks”, and considering the fact that we have just gotten one of our first real snows this year on campus, I thought it would be relevant to post my favorite part of this poem for you to enjoy:

 

Twice beautiful is beauty and what is good is doubly good when it is a case of two woolen socks in wintertime.

 

So simple, yet so great. Just like woolen socks themselves.

 

– Allison

Writing for Two: The Third Trimester

For the past 3 months I have been enrolled in Spanish 308, a 1-credit writing workshop that connects to any other approved Spanish course. The class has been relatively easy so far (as a 1-credit class should be), yet as I enter the last four weeks of the semester, I have entered the most difficult, laborious stage of the course.

 

I have to write the same essay for two teachers.

 

That is, my final essay for my other Spanish class will count for my grade in Spanish 308, so I must keep in mind the different styles and expectations of both teachers. As if writing an 8-page paper in a foreign language wasn’t hard enough!

 

Cue end-of-semester stress!

Food for Thought

Hello everyone!

 

My English 325 professor assigned our class a very interesting reading for this weekend titled “On Toast” by food blogger michael Procopio. It’s actually a very moving story that I encourage you all to read if you have a few minutes (it’s quite short but still very worth it!):

 http://foodforthethoughtless.com/2011/04/on-toast/

Seriously, if you have a few minutes I would read this piece. It reveals how sometimes even so simple a subject as a piece of bread can lead to surprising, life-altering conclusions.

Enjoy, and have a good weekend!

NELP??

Last week, my English 325 teacher gave my class a brief presentation about NELP (New England Literature Program), a University of Michigan academic program that takes place at Camp Wohelo on Sebago Lake in Maine during the spring semester. He talked about how NELP students and teachers live and work intimately during the program’s six and a half weeks, going camping and hiking and exploring the New England culture and countryside, all the while writing in journals about their experiences. Sounds awesome, right?

 

Here’s the catch: no technology. Read: no computers, basic electricity, and definitely no cell phones.

 

That was the most intimidating part for me. I love the outdoors, and was extremely intrigued by the prospect of climbing mountains, canoeing, and enjoying nature while using writing as a medium for understanding and enjoying the experience. Yet, how could I ever survive for six and a half weeks without checking my texts, e-mails and voicemails? I know, what an incredibly stupid question. But I think that in some way, we are all somewhat (and some more than others) connected, even dependent, on technology for feeling safe, comfortable and connected. Perhaps, then, a goal of NELP is to show how something like writing can make us feel safe, comfortable and connected with the world without the distractions of technology.

 

Have any of you ever participated in NELP, or thought about applying for it?