Finished!

My last Minor in Writing blog post! It hasn’t really hit me yet that I will be graduating, but I am at least trying to document my “lasts.” Although it is bittersweet to finish my minor experience, it is exciting because it means my project and portfolio are done!  While stressful at time, I am really happy with my finished for the Capstone. I was wary about how the portfolio would turn out because I never liked my Gateway portfolio that much. It just seems like a random collection of writing that doesn’t have a cohesive theme or look.

This time around I wanted to create a portfolio with a real purpose, and thus we get In-between: Transitional Writing at a Transitional Time. I came up with the “in-between” theme after reviewing my four years of work and realizing that most of my writing fits into either academic or personal, but my favorite writing are the pieces that mix the two genres. My portfolio organizes my writing samples into the academic, personal, and in-between genres and the categories are fleshed out in my writer’s evolution.

I came up with the in-between idea initially because it seemed like an interesting way to organize my portfolio, but the more I thought about it my writer’s evolution and making my portfolio, it became a much more important theme. With this approach, I feel like I learned more about what I’ve gained in my undergraduate writing and what I want my future writing to look like. This seems like it should be an obvious outcome of a Capstone course, but I’m pretty cynical person so I really didn’t expect this at the beginning of the semester. So I end the minor pleasantly surprised, and hopeful that other people will enjoy my portfolio as well!

Notes from the Project

Only a few more weeks left of the Capstone! Oh man! I feel like I’ve got a pretty good handle on getting everything done, but there is still the matter of actually executing…

As I was tying up the loose ends of my project, I found a page in my notebook with a few bullet points under the title “Things people said…” This came from a day when I had a bunch of my co-workers help me out by filling out “The Candid Application,” one of the major components of my project. It asks participants to answer frequently used application questions candidly. One of the fun things to do with this project was to have a group of people do this exercise together. This set up produced some of the most interesting applications. While people didn’t necessarily share their answers with the group because they were often very personal, there was a certain dynamic or atmosphere with a group of people doing the application together. Often we would talk about disastrous applications or the stupid things we said in our college admissions essays. I think this got people into a good head space to be really candid and actually reflect on applications.

A lot of the notes I took from this particular day are not appropriate for reproduction here, as there was quite a bit of cursing as I asked my co-workers to think about their failures and achievements. Inbetween bouts of laughter one of my participants commented, “this is emotional, it’s getting raw” and “I hate this because it forces me to think about myself.” Now I wasn’t setting out for people to have a mini existential crisis just from filling out a little application for my project, but I think the discomfort my co-worker felt made her responses really interesting. While I wouldn’t assume this exercise has had a lasting impact on her life, I hope it was at least an interesting ten minutes of her day.

A Sisterly View of Identity

My project, which asks participants to complete a “Candid Application,” is very connected to my experience in how to represent myself in applications. I think it says something about how I learned to value honesty when writing about myself and embrace parts of my identity that are a little fuzzy. I like that it blends parts of my professional/intellectual identity with more personal parts. In my portfolio I hope to achieve a similar balance, but actually articulating these particular identities is a little more difficult.

Although I seem to do it a lot, thinking about identity is not something I particularly enjoy. So when one of the options for this week was to have a family member describe me, I immediately pawned off the thinking to my sister. Over 22 years, our relationship has gone from best friend to annoying friend to mortal enemy and then slowly back to best friend. We always joke that her moving back to Australia and having 9,429 miles between us was the best thing for our relationship. At this point we spend a ridiculous amount of time together on FaceTime, sometimes in deep conversation and sometimes just as background noise. So if there was anyone to reveal aspects of my identity I don’t notice, it would be her.

Me and my sister at her wedding. This is our default face when we are together, just without professional makeup.
Libby and me at her wedding. This is our default face when we are together, just without professional makeup.

My sister took this assignment very seriously and returned with a dissertation on “Julia”:

Julia is a strong minded, opinionated and determined woman. If she wants something she will work hard and achieve it. Nothing gets in her way (besides hunger or a new Netflix show). She’s witty, smart, has a killer bitch face and can pull off red hot lipstick.

She is an individual. Every Halloween she proudly dress up as Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Julia is honest. She will tell you your outfit is the wrong colour or if it doesn’t suit you. Julia is kind and sensitive. She is a compassionate listener and supportive friend. She always has time for the people she loves.

Julia is not a follower, she is a leader. Even though she’s my baby sister, she’s someone I proudly follow.

I was blown away by my sister’s loving description. She quickly reminded me this is what she does for a living as a school teacher (“Jimmy is an independent and creative learner” etc.). Even so, Libby delivered on what I know she could do, explaining parts of my identity that I overlook. Libby’s first paragraph is what I tend to focus on in my personality, my intellectual goals and almost neurotic determination. It is a huge part of my identity, but I’m not a sociopath. I joke that I don’t need a lot of friends, which is largely true, but those relationships are incredibly important to me. Libby’s description reminds me that I can be an individual while also being intimately connected to others.

This exercise was enormously helpful for my portfolio because left up to me, I would have thought about my identity superficially. Words of Libby’s that I’ll want to refer to for my portfolio include: determined, individual, compassionate, supportive. Now, I have a document to look back to that explains the complexity of my identity, written by someone who knows and loves me greatly.

Writing Communities, Big and Small

Hello! I’m back for the Capstone, and so excited to finish up this last semester writing a lot! I have always done a consistent amount of writing in my course work, but it is usually limited to argumentation and research papers. In my seven semesters as a political science major I’ve gotten pretty good at writing the two, six to eight page papers that all my social science classes require. I am hoping through the more flexible Capstone, I’ll be able to take a few more risks and break out of this mold. The most interesting writing I have done in the past few months has actually been outside of my normal courses, and for different and new communities.

Last year I spent the winter semester in Washington DC, interning for the think tank, Center for American Progress. There I worked on a team devoted to women’s reproductive rights and I found myself writing for the policy community. I was very fortunate to have a supervisor that trusted me to do some of the initial drafting of issue briefs and other products that we would put out. It was really exciting to be working on a topic I am passionate about and  contributing to a larger body of work for a broader audience. Even though I was very eager, it took a while to get comfortable with this community’s style and medium. The writing had to be direct and clear, rooted in facts, yet still with an inherent persuasive tone. The goal is to be informative on an issue, while also convincing the reader that this is an issue that deserves their attention and that we have a good solution. I loved working in the fast paced environment where things could change in a few minutes. One of my favorite products I worked on was a column, “Congress Must Stop Playing Politics with Abortion.” It was a response to a few controversial actions in the Congress, and it was one of the first times I actually got to work on a piece that spoke directly to something happening right as I was writing. Even if only in a small way, it is cool to think I contributed to an ongoing conversation.

In the last few months I also found myself writing in a much smaller community,: admissions committees to law schools. I obsessed over these short answer questions, resumes, and personal statements for most of the summer. I felt the stress of having just 750 words that could be what determines such a huge part of my future. Yet even with that pressure, it was nice to reflect on my goals and for once not cite anything. I looked back at a lot of my writing to sort of track my progression of the last four years, both in my skill and my discovery of what I want to do with my life. With such little space I had to be incredibly strategic: tell a story, but still get the point across, show my personality, but don’t be casual. After months of rewriting I produced really tight writing with what I hoped was the right amount of determination, humility, and inspiration.

I enjoyed writing for these two communities that both vary in their scope and subject matter. And while the subject matter of the writing is very different, in both I essentially was trying to capture someones attention and sell them something, whether it be a policy suggestion or myself as a law student.

A Finished Eport!

I’m proud to introduce my eportfolio to the world (or at least the Sweetland world)! While putting the whole thing together was a pretty daunting task, by pacing myself over the past few weeks it has actually gone pretty smoothly.  In addition to the gateway assignments, I wanted to highlight some of my other interesting papers, and the writing skills I’ve developed in different courses. It turned out to a rewarding experience to go through all the different writing assignments, some were more successful than others, but it was great to see how much writing I’ve actually done! That’s why I included the “Everyday” section of my eport to show off some of the smaller assignments.  I think we tend to value the lengthy, argumentative essays the most, but some of my best writing have been little memos or reflections that have a restricted word count.  I’m glad these small pieces now have a home and could possibly be read by someone other than a GSI.  My eport isn’t very flashy, yet I think it reflects me and my writing well. I hope it illustrates the different writing I’m capable of, and how much I’ve enjoyed working on all of them.

Eport in Process

Its very exciting to finally be able to say that my eportfolio is now beginning to come together.  Once I decided I would think of employers as the main audience with the potential to use the portfolio for internships, the guiding theme made more sense and it was a matter of working on it. Now with the work I’ve put in the last few weeks, the abstract ideas and sketches now look like something I’ll be able to finish and be happy to show others. 

Front page
Front page with menu titles

After over thinking how to organize the different pieces, I eventually settled on sections for the minor, other argumentative essays, and then examples of everyday small pieces.  A completely unrelated question, but how have people decided on a subtitle? I obviously can’t leave it as “a fine WordPress.com site” but I don’t know what to name it without being cliche or too boring.  Anyway, even with these guiding sections I still have spent a lot of time of the menus and the format of each section.  It has been hard to include the different components (drafts, author’s notes etc.), while keeping it organized and simple to navigate.  The most difficult portion to decide on was for Why I Write, which I chose for the “walkthrough” requirement.  When I started working through this section, I knew I wanted to include two drafts with their author’s notes and the copy with comments from Shelley.  Initially I put the notes as a sub item of their respective draft, but it felt too cluttered.  I’m generally wary of sub items because I don’t like having too many items hidden, and as a reader this type of organization can sometimes make me feel like I’m missing important parts.  My current eportfolio has the author’s notes appear before their draft, helping to set up and explain my thinking with each version of the work.  What I’m still not sure of is how to include the “final” draft.  There are very few edits between the second draft and what will the last, thus I don’t want them to feel redundant.  The most recent plan is to put the final draft on the main page and include an author’s note (like the other drafts) to explain the different subitems and how I got to the final piece.  

Why I Write drop down menu
Why I Write drop down menu

My experiments with the widgets have been confusing, and sometimes successful.  I still don’t know the point of most of the widget options, but some of them do make sense to include.  I’m most excited by the RSS feed I was able to set up (with the help of Shelley) so it only included my posts on the Sweetland minor blog.  After I publish this post, I’m going to immediately check the eportfolio to see if it updated.

Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 3.40.58 PM
My RSS feed triumph

There is still a ton of work to be done until I have a finished product, but at least now that endpoint seems feasible.  It wouldn’t be honest to say I’ve really enjoyed the process, although there is a great deal of satisfaction when I do get something right.

Prewriting Practice

I’m  going to confess a deep, dark secret.  I never pre-write.  No outlines, lists, nothing.  On blue book exams, I’ll sometimes go back and write a little outline after finishing the essay, so the professor would think I followed the proper test taking protocols.  The proposals I have written for the last few papers are the closest thing to pre-writing I have done in a long time.  I’ve always just preferred diving right in to writing, messing up a few times, then discovering what I really want to say.  Even in middle school when the hamburger essay had to have an outline, I hated the process.  I didn’t understand why I was spending valuable time on bullet points when I could be getting the real words on paper. I didn’t want to waste good ideas on planning, I wanted to see if they would work right away.

So maybe out of habit I stopped planning my pieces, and instead wrote by trial. As topics became more difficult and risky, I developed a process where pre-writing and outlining fell somewhere in the middle stages of writing.  After a shitty first draft, I’ll try to rearrange and rewrite. What emerges is a bunch of ideas, experiments, and bullet points that in some parallel universe may be the type of planning the New Jersey public school system always wanted me to do.  It has worked for me so far, but now with the re-mediation I wonder if it is time to try something new.  My proposal is to create the social media platform of the SuperPac I’m writing about in the re-purposing.  Because it will visual and the writing will have to be in a specific format, I think another approach may help. This may be my chance to break my normal writing cycle and discover a new way to approach my work.

Pixar storyboard

A story board just makes me think of something like the picture above.  It wasn’t apparent to me how a series of illustrations could translate to an essay. But a visual, multi-format, media driven project? That might be closer.  After talking to Shelley a little more about what this pre-writing would entail,  I decided a story board of sorts will be how I start the re-mediation work.  The way I’m thinking about it is that each media platform I’m considering including would have its own page (or panel).  This could include a sketch of what I want it to look like, different ideas and arguments that will be included, and examples to serve as good models.  I imagine it turning out as a vision board of sorts.  This will hopefully help me see what I need to accomplish, and what I want the project to convey, more clearly. Especially considering the formats I’ll be using aren’t conducive to my preferred method: just sitting down as typing.

This will all be going down in the next couple of days, so wish me luck.  We’ll find out if this goes as well as the 6th grade outline, or if it’s the start of a new way to approach writing. 

Beginnings of an Eportfolio

After first introducing the eportfolio, it seemed so abstract and I had no idea how I would go about filling the space.  Looking over some examples of other minor students made me relax a little, and helped with a few ideas.  But it wasn’t until I sat down and really thought through the questions on the prompt that I could imagine the eportfolio as something more than just an assignment.

Initially, when reading the question about the type of “reading experience”  I want for the portfolio, I didn’t think much beyond including my best writing pieces.  I then thought specifically about the different components of the “Why I Write” project, I realized I wanted the reader to experience my writing process through the format of the portfolio.  I want to include the major milestones in each assignment, illustrating how I moved from an idea to a final draft.  I really like the idea of scanning in the hard copy I use for peer-reviews, especially the one for “Why I Write” which is covered in scribbles and arrows.  I have found doing author’s notes useful in making sure my writing reflects what my stated goals are, so incorporating them in the portfolio is important.  In order to give the readers the feeling of going through my  thought process, it will probably take some trial and error with the structure.  Right now, I’m thinking each major assignment should have its own tab on the main bar, with each major draft being underneath.  I also plan on including the author’s notes as a sub-tab of their respective draft. This format idea concerns me because I don’t want it to be too busy and have tons of drop down menus everywhere.  Hopefully by playing around with the structure, I will find one that allows me to include all the parts I want to, but is still user friendly and efficient.

The question that gave me the most pause was about including media.  I’m unsure of how this will work, because although I’ve found it easy to think of links and videos to include in the informal blog, I don’t know if I can do the same of my more formal work.  I understand the need to make sure the portfolio isn’t just blocks of words, but I think it will take some thought and creativity to decide what will be appropriate.  One idea that stuck out to me was having a soundtrack.  I always listen to music when I write (I’ve got some oldies on while writing this), and when working on one work I tend to cycle through a few albums.  It has also become important for me to listen to entire albums, as I feel it adds to the experience and understanding.  The idea of the complete album sort of connects to my vision of being able to see the whole process of my pieces on the portfolio, so I’d love to incorporate this part of my routine into the portfolio somehow.  This might manifest in a “what I was listening to while writing this” section (in case you’re wondering, for “Why I Write” it was Graceland and Hurry We’re Dreaming). 

While I started out as overwhelmed by not enough ideas, I now feel overwhelmed by how to implement my ideas! I think it will take a lot of attempting and failing, but hopefully the end result will be something like what I envision.

Re-purposing: from ideological to cynical

I didn’t have to deliberate much to decide which piece I would end up re-purposing, because there was only one work that I, a. wasn’t sick of yet, and b. had a lot of possibilities.  It is a policy proposal I wrote for a political communication class, in which I argue the primary elections should be limited to ten weeks and that the order of the contests should be based on the state’s voter turnout.  The paper and subject has kept my attention and interest because it is reform I actually believe in, and it is pretty inconceivable.  While the opinion that this type of policy would ever be adopted may be a negative to some, to me it makes it more fun.  I don’t have to tone down the policy to make it more realistic, and I can be more creative with how such a policy would be received and lobbied for.  Though I knew this was the project I wanted to work with, I could not pin down what I wanted to do with, for I had so many different ideas swirling in my head.

Talking to classmates and Shelley helped narrow down the options and make my objective clearer.  What I realized was that many of the ideas I was considering  targeted a “general audience” and were relatively safe, like a Huffington Post opinion piece.  I really wanted to do something a little different and not something you would necessarily have easy access to.  I started thinking about the things happening behind closed doors, deals being made, fundraising events, and lobbyist lunches.  The real workings of Washington we only ever get to see when someone sneaks in a camera, i.e. the “47%” reveal.  As someone with a healthy sense of cynicism, I enjoy reading insider books and watching the dark politics in House of Cards.  From there I had to target the specific audience that would benefit from my policy proposal, and those with the power to insist on its introduction.  While in the original, academic piece I down play this opposition and offer counter evidence, with this policy a clear demographic would benefit.  With a shorter amount of time to garner name recognition, more experienced politicians with well known positions would be helped.  Basically the dreaded “DC Insider,” think John McCain rather than a grassroots Tea Party candidate. 

My original proposal was an academic paper written for my professor, but with the idea the audience was a legislature deciding whether to support the reform.  It has a formal, and at times slightly persuasive tone.  The purpose of the proposal is to prove there is a problem with the current primary system and this reform is the solution.  I suggest a ten week schedule with the order of the states being determined by the state’s voter turnout from the previous election, and progressively adding the number of contests each week.  By doing this, I argue the type of media coverage would improve, the parties would become stronger, and voters will be less apathetic.

The re-purposing will be a speech given to political insiders at a private lunch hosted by an organization lobbying for this reform.  The audience is the attendants who would benefit from the policy, including the Republican and Democratic party leadership, established politicians, and consultants specializing in campaigns.  The tone will be formal, yet I hope to find the balance where while written in the style of such a speech, it is somewhat satirical.  I plan on trying this by candidly explaining how this reform will solve many of the superficial problems of campaigns and politicians in order to persuade them.

I have found different models for I want the piece to come across, but its hard to know until I start writing it and fleshing it out.  But for now I’m just excited to explore the veiled, cynical part of Washington, an exercise that is generally not a part of the university’s political science courses.

Don’t Be a Janet

While this week’s readings were intellectually engaging, personally they were not so enjoyable.  Together they put a spotlight on one of my failings as a reader and writer.  It was almost as if Penrose and Geisler were looking over my shoulder explaining the things I was doing wrong while reading their own article “Reading and Writing Without Authority.”  It’s a little scary reading about bad reading practices, and then realizing you are doing what the authors are describing at that very moment.

I can lose sight of the idea that I have something to contribute, as Penrose and Geisler put it, believing “there is authority to spare” (517).  I often lack this deeper thinking when reading an academic article.  When I choose the scholarly article or it is a part of a research topic I’m passionate about, it is easier to be truly engaged with the argument.  But, if part of a weekly block of reading or on a subject I’m getting tired of, I can slip into those bad reading habits.   Interestingly, I rarely forget my own authority when reading a news or opinion article. This may be because these are readings of my choosing, thus I am drawn to subjects and arguments I’m interested in and know something about. Yet, there is something to be said about the lack of citations or fancy university name drops that makes it easier to question the author’s claims.

Once I snapped back into thinking critically about “Reading and Writing Without Authority,” I began to analyze my reading with the two case studies, Janet and Roger, in mind.  Though hoping I fit into the Roger-authority-reader/writer category in every respect, I could see how I fall back into the safer Janet style.  I feel confident in my ability to read with a certain authority, like Roger “identifying, sorting, and evaluating the claims,” although it sometimes has to be a conscious effort (510).  Yet, this can be hard to sustain.  Last semester I had to write a book review on an academic study about immigration, and I started as a perfect Roger.  I chose Margot Canaday’s The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in  Twentieth-Century America, it has a very intricate argument, and initially I wasn’t buying it.  I carefully thought about each claim separately, analyzed their evidence and validity, while also thinking how it worked as one argument.  That was until she convinced me.  Once I came to the last ten pages, I was totally on board and forgot all the great Roger work I had done previously.  I breezed through writing the review, and it wasn’t until I had typed five pages that I realized I lacked any critiques or true evaluations of the claims.  I then had to remember the authority I was so proud of originally and revise the paper.

Maintaining this critical thinking throughout the reading and writing process is difficult, but hopefully with enough practice I will be in default, Roger setting. I also want to remember to not only have authority in evaluating the authors, but also have authority in my own contribution.  In research papers, it is often difficult to see where my own insights fit in amongst the prestigious, academic voices.  But I think this should come easier when I have a thorough understanding of the scholarly sources and the topic as a whole.  I am going to work hard to keep this authority constant in all of the reading and writing I find myself doing, possibly with the mantra “don’t be such a Janet.”