My Gateway in Retrospect

I, like mostly people, have grown to hate their Gateway projects. Specifically, I hate my eportfolio. Not only do I think that it’s boring to look at, but I also see a lack of cohesion between the pages that I didn’t see when I was constructing it.

My Capstone project is a lot different, since we no longer have to house our work on an eportfolio. My sole focus has been on creating my project on my project’s site, and it’s been fairly easy to keep it logically pieced together. By the way I’ve written it, and the explanatory nature of the content, many visually separate chunks of prose seem to be a part of the same train of thought.

But now I have to end it. The problem isn’t so much: what am I going to say in my conclusion? The problem is: how am I going to say it. I know that I want to leave my audience with a takeaway about what they should do now that they’ve gained all of this specific knowledge. However, as I’m attempting to write it, the prose reads in an almost completely different voice than the rest of my project. 

My voice elsewhere is very straight forward and to the point. It’s explanatory and matter-of-fact. But in the conclusion, I, for some reason, sound like I’m writing in a diary.

I decided to go back to my Gateway to see how I ended things there. The issue is that I didn’t end things. I didn’t have any sort of conclusion not only for my eportfolio, but also for the project itself. I used the platform merely as a place to plop my work down and explain it. 

For this project, I decided to focus on one of my favorite books, If on a winter’s night a traveler, by Italo Calvino. I was interested in the genre that it was written in, and I wanted to convince an audience of unfamiliar readers to dive into this somewhat intimidating postmodern work. As a result, I wrote an article analyzing the novel’s success.

For this project, I took the argument in my previous piece, The Case for Calvino, and translated it into a new medium, for the same audience. The medium I chose was Twitter.

Postmodernism can be confusing and dense, and I thought it would be more approachable and disgestable in this short format. Moreover, the discontinuity of Twitter allowed me to experiment with the many different thematic concerns of the genre.

I created a fictional author, Katherine Crosby, and tweeted her postmodern thoughts. I also tweeted pictures and links that Katherine found useful, interesting, and relevant, and I retweeted quotations from well-known postmodern authors that inspired her. Consequently, Katherine’s timeline presents a diverse picture of postmodernism.

This is so BORING and UNHELPFUL. At the time, I didn’t realize that I wasn’t answering the most important question of content creation: what does this matter?

We had to write about the making of the projects, and now I’m wondering, why didn’t I include this material in the introductions and conclusions of my works?

That way, people unfamiliar to the genre could be exposed to it without being too bogged down by some of the more confusing characteristics (like nonlinear plotlines, ect). With only 140 characters, I could show my audience what postmodernism was, without making them work too hard for the understanding.

This reflective work would have framed my projects in a more interesting light.

So now, for my conclusion in Capstone, I’m going to reflect back on the making of my project. What things have I noticed changing about my own habits the more I’ve learned about analytics? What kind of consumer have I become over the course of this project? Which bits of information have informed my perspective the most?

If I answer these questions, my conclusion will hopefully sound less like a diary and more like the rest of my project. Then, as I move towards revealing a truth that I’ve uncovered about my own habits as a consumer, the voice will become more explanatory -this is how it is- and less instructive -this is what you should do.

Self Exploration and Maybe Realization

My capstone project is about Analytics, the field that I’m going into after graduation. While creating a informational site and breaking down analysts’ responsibilities, I’ve been able to learn more about my own thought processes. It’s been useful to identify steps and labels for actions that I do automatically and not always consciously. I can more pointedly identify what it is about analytics that I enjoy and what it is about analytics I find challenging.

Thinking about past assignments, I think there are a few areas where further guided exploration would have led to the same kind of self evaluation and reflection and realization. In my English 325 class, we wrote personal essays, and the first assignment was to record part of your life. We were asked to transcribe the recording and create a narrative essay.

I recorded a few different things, but settled on a conversation in which I was annoyed with my then boyfriend. It was called “How I Talk,” and it focused on the tone I used when I got frustrated. The essay ended up being a very honest view of a negative aspect of myself, but it was just that, a view.

I had highlighted a part of myself that I knew to be negative and problematic, but due to the nature of the assignment, I didn’t do anything further.

The first section of my essay was based in quotes and included little narrative detail:

“Yeah, why didn’t you just do it today?” I could hear myself talking down to him.

He didn’t say anything. I guess he knew I was right.

“I put my clothes in the dryer before I came out. So I’m gonna go back and see if they smell. We’ll see. I also don’t expect them to be dry. It was a pretty big load.”

“Jesus Alex,” I said.

He didn’t say anything for a little bit, and then he asked me about my day.

The second section of my essay was based on an internal monologue. I tried to put as little retrospective thought into this prose, because I wanted to preserve the truth of the recording and scene:

I think it was the way I talked to him. I should’ve responded like a girlfriend would. Be sympathetic. Or something. I was just in too deep, and when he brought it back up I couldn’t change my stance. I’m not going to coddle him. This is the way things are, and I’m not going to tell anyone differently. But I don’t think he’s mad at me; he’s never mad at me. And I’m not mad at him. That’s good at least.

 

What I chose to record had a lot of implications. About my personality, about my reactions, about my relationship, about what I thought about myself and the people around me. Ultimately, I ignored a lot of those implications. If I had the opportunity to unpack the recording further, I may have been able to write my way into some form of clarity. Moreover, I think that the narration would have been more impactful if it had been accompanied by other moving parts. I would have written other essays about other relationships in my life or about similar situations.

By reducing the scene to the bare bones of what actually happened, there is a kind of truth about myself that I revealed. But I think that retrospective thought would add a lot to this piece, as it is conversations like these that people rarely think about later. They seem inconsequential. Adding more parts and spending more time on this one conversation could add to its depth and significance. I could make this conversation more consequential.

The most rewarding thing about a class structured such as this, is that the length and depth of the projects allows you ample time to reflect on yourself, whether it be as a student, citizen, writer, or friend. A lot of different assignments would have benefitted me more if I were able to explore them further, but a self exploration would be the most interesting and perhaps overdue.

So I’m Having Design Problems

My eyes may actually fall out of my head if I continue to stare at my website. Each time I log on, I see something else that I could make better, and I spend my time messing with each element. I keep telling myself to put what I’ve done so far on the back burner and charge ahead, but it’s difficult to do when I’m confronted with what I’ve done every time I go try to do something.

I don’t think I’ve encountered this particular challenge before, because it’s easy to ignore large chunks of text in a paper. My attention isn’t drawn to any place I don’t want it to go. But when I think about how I edit large papers, I notice that I do all my edits at once, one at a time.  I go through prose with a fine tooth comb and make my tenses consistent. Then I fix commas. Then I make each passive sentence active. So on and so on.

While it’s difficult to ignore design elements when they’re staring me in the face, I want to implement this one-by-one editing process into my site. If I notice something as I’m scrolling down to create more content, I’ll write it down. Then I’ll have a list of things I want to change, and, later, I’ll be able to go through them, one-by-one, and make sure that all of my elements are consistent.

I’ve also been ignoring text edits as of late, so once I hit another content benchmark, I want to focus on those. I’ve been looking up some tips, so hopefully something helps and my prose will become more appropriate for the web.

 

You Can’t Know What You Don’t Know

The most extreme logical implication of my project is second order ignorance. That is, ignorance of ignorance.

My project is based on pulling back a curtain to reveal how analytics is integrated into every part of our lives. If someone were to remain unaware of this fact, they would be missing the knowledge necessary to enter into a lot of different conversations. There is a lot of rapid technological change that influences our society. Understandably, there is also a decent amount of push back about how things are changing and where they’re going. There are concerns about privacy, there are concerns about artificial intelligence, there are concerns about distraction and attention spans, and there are concerns about representation and bias.

These are all legitimate concerns brought about by technology. But a person’s ability to discuss these concerns is weakened if they don’t understand all the ways in which technology is working around us. Sometimes, when people talk about data manipulation and machine learning, they speak as if there aren’t people behind the scenes making decisions. The technology is autonomous and everything is its fault.

Without a better understanding of all of the influential ways technologies work around us, positive and negative, we aren’t completely capable of forming opinions about how much is too much or how we ought to be employing our new capabilities. Moreover, it’s crucial to be able to recognize that there are people developing these technologies for a purpose, and we need to understand those motivations, since they generally aren’t sinister.

Yes, there is bias in data. But that’s not really a problem. The problem is that people misinterpret and misuse the data so that the biases aren’t acknowledged or accounted for. Technology creates concerns, but they’re really masked social concerns. We have to know the processes people go though to reach conclusions in order to identify the parts that are problematic. Otherwise, we’ll blame the technology for our own problems.  

how am I supposed to just start

It’s late into Sunday evening, and I haven’t written any content for my peers to workshop. As a senior, I’ve been finding it difficult to motivate myself to sit down and focus, especially when it’s cold outside, my house is warm, and the Olympics are on.

My lack of motivation hasn’t been much of a problem, but I can already tell that I won’t be able to do the bare minimum for this class. I won’t be happy with myself if I do, since I have a personal stake in the project.

So now I’m trying to motivate myself. Or at least get this going. And I’ve been thinking back to other times when I’ve had similar challenges. Last year, in English 325, we had whole-class workshops, where you were assigned a day to bring in your rough draft for the entire class to critique. It was the night before my draft was due, and I hadn’t written anything; I didn’t even know what I should write about. But I didn’t want to hand in something that would be so terrible I’d be embarrassed to share it with everyone.

I had no choice but to just start.

I started writing and ignored edits as I went. Normally, I rewrite almost sentence by sentence, because I feel like I can’t move on until I’ve finished. Yet pressed for time I found myself sloppily spitting out words until I had full paragraphs. This new writing process allowed me to create one of my favorite bits of writing:

“In the spring there were little sail boats and rowboats tied to the one small dock, and in the winter I remember the pond freezing over at least once, but I do not remember seeing any ice skaters. The fall was overloaded with colors and in my mind I see piles of leaves on the sidewalks, although I am sure the leaves were picked up, put in bags, and sent away on trucks. When I got tired of looking, I would close my eyes and listen to the radio and my dad shifting the gears. The traffic and stoplights made it nearly impossible to shift past first, so the glide of the car in neutral and the feel of the clutch engaging would lull me in my sleepy state. Other than the radio and the sounds of the transmission, we always drove in silence.”

Now, this has been edited for my final draft, but without fixing things as I went, I was able to spew out clear emotions and pictures in my head. Then I could go back and make things sharper later.

Moving forward in my current project, I want to hold off on edits until I have large chucks of writing. So even if what I produce for tomorrow is sloppier than I would like, I know that I’ve gotten what’s in my head out in some form. And hopefully there will be more candor in my writing than there would be otherwise.

This approach is easier to do with this larger project, since there is a lot of time (hopefully) at the back end to do some serious editing. I am going to plan my process so that my periods of content creation are shorter than my editing periods. This way, I won’t have too much to invest in content creation; I’ll just have to bang out the writing as I go. But then, I’ll have to invest more time and ultimately more effort into cleaning up my prose and making it more cohesive. This way, the creative content will remain, and the precise prose that I’m looking for will be crafted.

The Past is Surprisingly Relevant

I usually don’t think about my past writing, because it’s really difficult for me to find the thread that got me from there to here. What I have done in the past never seems to reflect what I do now. There isn’t a specific genre I tend to write in, and there isn’t a topic that I have been producing papers about since Freshman year. So when asked to reflect, I tend to think of the drastic differences on the surface and write about what I’ve changed or what I want to change.

I went back to my Gateway portfolio and reread my writing for the first time since that class. My project was about Italo Calvino and postmoderism, because I had just read some of his books and was obsessed. It was an interesting topic that came up during my brainstorm. But I wouldn’t say it’s a topic I’m passionate about. Frankly, I haven’t thought about it since (I reread Invisible Cities this summer, but I really didn’t think about it too hard).

For my Capstone, I will be writing about analytics (hopefully my interest in this topic will last longer, since it is my career path as of late). However, what does this have to do with postmodernism, and how can I even begin to connect what I did then with what I’m hoping to do now?

Well, for this entry I’m going to focus on tone.

My goal for my Capstone is to develop an educated and professional tone, without forfeiting the accessibility of my writing. It’s going to sound like an article in a business or economic or tech magazine, but without the confusing lingo. The point of my project is for everyone to understand what analytics is.

In Gateway, I produced what I called “an article” (you can find it here: http://emstack.wixsite.com/eportfolio/the-case-for-calvino) about one of Calvino’s books being exemplary of its genre. These are the elements of that article that I want to reproduce or draw inspiration from for my current project:

  • I used a numbered list to structure some really confusing ideas in a clear way. It made my writing simpler and easier, and it’s visually welcoming (I love white space).
  • The writing is professional, yet conversational. I steer clear of formal, but I still manage to sound like I know what I’m talking about.
    • I use “But” to begin a sentence: “In modernist writing, the real world is the product of observation and analysis. But postmodernism completely rejects the concept of a ‘real’ world.”
    • I also pose and answer questions: “If writing does not carry theoretical, emotional, or symbolic meaning, form where do those meanings arise? It must be the case that there is something about reading itself that creates significance.”
  • There are many short sentences.
  • The grammar is correct. There’s no ambiguity even in the more complex sentences: “We’re so used to reading books set in the real world, or set in fantasy worlds that mirror the real world, with linear narratives and predictably structured plotlines, that when we’re confronted with concepts so abstract and unfamiliar as these, we’re tempted to brush them off as being failed attempts at something we know.” (Although I got a little winded reading this).

Instead of focusing on the surface level differences, I need to pay more attention to elements that I still like. What made this successful, even if I would never produce it now. 

My Writing and the Internet

My EPortfolio is up and ready! You can find it here: http://emstack.wix.com/eportfolio. On it, you will find my work from the Gateway and other classes that I have taken.

I have painstakingly formatted this site so that it flows nicely and everything on it looks like it belongs there. I have measured spacing with my thumbnail, and I have flipped back and forth between pages, making sure that the text boxes are the same size. This was sometimes a tedious process, but I am extremely proud of my finished product.

I think that my site accurately reflects who I am as a writer, and by exploring it, you will be able to see my development as a writer and become familiar with the topics that have captivated me most.

Change your mind

The one thing that I wish I had known before coming into this course, was how much my writing goals would change.

When I wrote my letter to apply for the minor, I talked about how I only wrote in an academic genre. I explained that I was comfortable making arguments and structuring essays. I wrote about how I wasn’t very creative.

But after I wrote my “Why I Write,” I realized that I wanted to explore my writing outside of academic essays. I wanted to see what my voice would sound like in more casual articles, and I wanted to see how creative I could be.

So I didn’t end up writing anything in a style that I was familiar with. All of my projects were new and kind of scary, but they were also incredibly exciting. It was refreshing to put myself out there in a way I hadn’t before, and it was rewarding to be able to do so successfully.

My advice would be to be flexible. Don’t have too many expectations for yourself. Be willing to explore writing as a whole, and don’t stay too close to your comfort zone. You’re going to grow as a writer in this class, and sometimes that growth is completely unforeseeable.

I became a lot more confident during this experience. More confident about my writing, and more confident about taking risks. I attribute that to my ability to rethink my goals, and the supportive classmates and teacher that I was lucky to have. Thank you to everyone for reading my terrible drafts and helping me to grow in ways that I could not have anticipated.

 

my fake twitter now has 3 followers

After I had my project workshopped on Thursday, I rethought about my purpose. Initially, my purpose was to use my fake author’s Twitter account to introduce my audience to postmodernism. But after the feedback I received in class, and after I thought about it more, I came to the conclusion that my Twitter’s purpose is to be just that, a Twitter.

I don’t think it’s necessary for my fake author to take on the responsibility of explaining postmodernism and all of its complexities. I think it is enough to use Twitter as a way to play with the genre. This way, even if my audience doesn’t full grasp postmodernism, they can still appreciate the tweets for what they are: little clever, confusing statements.

That being said, I also want to develop the Twitter account so that it mirrors an actual account. I’ve started to space out my tweets, reply to people, and add links and photos. The most challenging aspect of my edited project is finding tweets that I can retweet. There really isn’t a whole lot about postmodernism out there on Twitter. But I have managed to find some tweets referencing the genre.

Moving forward, I’m working on developing my timeline so that it’s dynamic and interesting. I’m tweeting several things a day, and by the end of this week I hope to have everything I want up on the account.

My thought is that when my audience views this Twitter, they’ll be introduced to postmodernism, and they’ll be inclined to click on the links I tweet or to do some Googling on their own.

Wow I’m aggressive and other thoughts

The Most Dangerous Writing App:

I’m a fairly levelheaded person, so for me, pet peeves are kind of a big deal. I either don’t mind something or I absolutely hate it. And I’ve learned that by having roommates at college.

You don’t know how temperamental you can be until you live with someone. You share your space, you see them constantly, and you, unfortunately, experience a kind of round-the-clock closeness. There are certain harmless quirks and habits that drive me absolutely insane, and I blame it all on the constant being together.

When they say things, normal things, normal jokes or comments, and I hear them every single day, I have absolutely no patience, and I can’t even pretend not to be annoyed.

I get the worst scowl on my face, and I’m a genuinely unpleasant person. And I hate that about myself, because I should be able to put on a smile and pretend that every time they laugh I don’t want to scoop my eyeballs out with a spoon. I don’t think that this means I’m the worst person ever, but I am arguably the worst roommate ever. And if I know one thing about myself, it’s that I don’t live well with other people.

And my thoughts:

Wow I’m aggressive.

While this go round of The Most Dangerous Writing App was more successful than the last, I like the result less. I was able to type straight through, without “failing,” but because I didn’t think about the topic beforehand, I went with the first thing that popped into my head.

And consequently, I think I painted myself like an annoying and sensitive person. But I’ve decided to post the results anyway, because I know that at least part of this post is true.