Evolution of a Reader/Writer

The readings this week made me think a lot about how reading affects writing and the ways in which they are positioned and valued to us in society. How we learn and the level at which we master these two integral life skills greatly shape our life paths and what we do and contribute to the world. According to Brandt’s “The Status of Writing,” we’re switching from a nation of readers to a nation of writers, in part because we have the ability to read so much more than we used to with the spread of mass communication and information technologies.

I always have considered myself first a reader then a writer. I read to learn about something, I read for class, I read to borrow and steal techniques of good writing. Instead of reading exclusively for content, nowadays I look to form and function too, as my college education has instructed me to do. Before college, my reading/writing life was content-driven, simple, and largely taking everything at which I read at face value neglecting to reflect on and think critical of the text.

While reading the Penrose and Geigler’s “Reading and Writing About Authority” about the different methods in which Janet and Roger composed their reports given the same prompt, I was able to explicitly realize how much my own reading and writing habits have evolved since entering the University. When I track my growth as a writer, I’ll try to detect the evolution of my writing samples and how my writing has sophisticated over time. When I track my growth as a reader, I can pinpoint my shift from teen fiction to more nonfiction texts and then academic articles and reading for intellectual curiosity, as well as an abundance of online content.

By highlighting the study of the college freshman as an “outsider” to an “insider” in his domain, Penrose and Geigler have reasserted my own feelings I had as a freshman and how I used to feel when writing academically. Roger knows that knowledge claims can be contested causing him to write with authority. My graduated high school self certainly did not know I could formally challenge what published authors had written through my own writing. In fact, most of the ways in which Janet went about pursuing information from the article pool I would have done myself back then, heavily focusing on the content rather than the methods and form. Janet’s habits were so closely related to my own just a few years ago I thought I was reading an article about my own habits.

It wasn’t until last semester when I finally began to understand that reading an academic article (or anything really) relies heavily on understanding the claims the author is making. My International Studies course on development had us reading many articles on the different facets of the topic, and when my lecturer covered them in lecture, she consistently used the author’s names to describe arguments. While I didn’t remember author names as well as I did the content of their arguments, I understood that their words and writing was meant to be challenged and discussed in a constructive manner.

These readings have given me a lot of perspective on growth and the complex relationship that reading and writing share with each other. While I was always implicitly aware of how my reading affected my writing habits and styles, these authors shed to light more clearly my position in the context.

Metablogging

Blogging as the digitization of thought.

After rereading Sullivan’s Why I Blog, I once again can lament on my feelings towards blogging, and ironically, express these feelings through blogging itself. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea. When LiveJournal started to become popular in middle school, and with the explosion of music blogs my friends were discovering new music with, I shied away from ever having to record my thoughts onto an online forum for all to read. I occasionally perused the blogosphere and found myself hooked on Perez Hilton‘s celebrity blog during my pop culture obsessive phase. Hilton’s blog read more as a news site with his comments rather than the use of the term we’re getting at in this class as thought-provoking and substantive prose. If I were to read a blog like Sullivan’s, I feel like I would be invading onto his personal space and thus reading something or learning something intimate that I shouldn’t be. The thoughts and ideas of bloggers are instantly transported from their minds to cyber space for anyone to tear them apart, offer suggestions or praise or to even share their words with others. At any moment a stranger can be learning about you through your writing style or what you choose to talk about or link to. The blogger knows this.
Now, I see blogging as our societal move to the digitization of everything, and for me, blogging has come to symbolize the digitization of thought. While Sullivan discusses the phenomenon of being able to say what you want to say in real time and allowing for immediate reader feedback, he does not offer much of a space for voices who see large audiences as dooming, and that the more they say what’s on their mind the less value their work feels. At the moment, that’s what I feel about this new media form of writing.
Perhaps it is my personality that suggests as to why blogging makes me uncomfortable. I don’t rant on social media and if you want to know what’s going on in my life, I’ll talk to you about it, not relate it over texting or a phone call. I value my privacy and feel my stream of consciousness should remain a private affair. Blogging opens up the possibility to extract these thoughts out of my mind and into the open, which I have only done before orally and with close friends. If Anne Lamott compared the writing process to pulling teeth, for me it is laying my personal thoughts out into the world that gives me great pain as of late.
There’s lots of topics I’d like to blog about that permeate my brain and keep me up at night, but if I publish something like that, for who and what am I really writing for? While there is a diary-like quality to a blog because it is most easy to write about yourself, I cringe at the idea of people I don’t know reading about what’s on my mind or what I have to say on a certain subject. They don’t know me and I don’t know them, and why should they even care what I have to say if it’s probably not all that important anyway?
I’d much rather sit at a roundtable and have a face-to-face discussion with someone versus post in an online forum. It’s not old school, it’s my preference for a physical conversation. While Sullivan reminds us that blogging brings out the personality of the blogger and that’s how blogs become successful, this personality emits from a computer screen. It can build a reader-blogger relationship, but I don’t know how that could compare to a best friend or someone you are close with who really knows you and you know them. Perhaps the scale and stage of blogging opens up a new way to form relationships and I’m just shying away because of the grand size of it all is something I’ve never had to deal with before.
I’m still reluctant to see if blogging this semester will allow me to embrace the art more or still see it as a frightening way to reveal something about myself through my writing. But if writing this metapost is any indication, I’m likely on the former track.

Mind over Matter

Often when I tell people that I work out six days a week, work 22 hours a week, take 17 credits, sleep 6-8 hours per night and get all my work done days in advance while still maintaining a thread of a social life, they look at me like I’m crazy. They also assume I must drink copious amount of energy drinks or coffee or take some sort of medication to function like the Energizer bunny. I hate both energy drinks and coffee, so I tell them that it’s my dedication to time management and getting things done that allows me a schedule where I can freely go about my day well-rested, productive and happy.
As college students, when we think we don’t have enough time sleep is the first thing to get thrown down to the bottom on our list of priorities. The endless amounts of assignments, group meetings, classes and general perception of so-much-to-do-so-little-time we give ourselves should not induce stress but rather motivation. Part of the reason I stay so grounded and can do everything I want is that I realize that my free time should be used to fill in with these many life pressures, not spent social media-ing or watching a movie or trying to do productive housework like washing the dishes to avoid school work.
Why do I constantly hear people say they get excited when class gets canceled, or when they don’t have much work to do today? We’re here at the University of Michigan to learn something, to get an education. While it has been said that much of the learning you do at college happens outside the classroom, classes and responsibilities are important too. I choose to look forward to class and to studying, or writing or going to work because I know that it is what I’m supposed to be doing. It bothers me a lot when people’s attitudes don’t reflect this enthusiasm for learning and attending one of the finest academic institutions in the world.
Is my attitude and perspective just slightly too radical for my peers to adopt? Is the feeling of ranting on Facebook or twitter about how much work you have to do a rite of passage in the life of a college student? Why do so many faces I stumble upon across campus read as nonchalant or sad, when just a smile could instantly improve your mood and attitude and give you a whole new perspective on your day?
I do like to have fun, and I know I can have fun when I’ve earned it. But for having been surrounded with like-minded individuals for the past two-and-a-half years, I can’t help but feel that I’m an outlier in a sea of students who’d rather skip class and take a nap than go to class even if they’re tired because they want to learn.
Really, I let my attitude guide my philosophy on learning. It’s not like I came to this point that easily, it took about four semesters of trying to find my ideal life formula to be successful here. And as much as I talk about how balanced my life is, sometimes I’ll relapse and put off an assignment only to stay up late the night before finishing it. Mostly, I try to stay as disciplined as possible so I can stay happy and energized, willing to take on my responsibilities one day at a time. It’s mind over matter for me, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be for you too.

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.