Challenge Journal: I guess it’s a common theme…

…that I struggle when the writing gets “serious” to make the tone still my own. Ha. Poet and I didn’t know it.

On Thursday, after I wrote my third challenge journal (check it out), I had a meeting with my writing GSI for my BFA year-long thesis. He was very complimentary of the last half of the paper, because, in his words, “it was very fun to read.” However, he kindly explained that I had completely lost that “fun, free voice” during the parts in which I was explaining my research for the project.

It was only once I was able to get to the part of the writing where I was actually writing about what wanted to and felt comfortable with that the writing sounded like my own.

Interesting. I lose my writing voice both when I’m feeling vulnerable/exposed and when I’m writing about things I find boring.

One paragraph of the research part of my thesis reads:

“A recurring theme throughout my research, which was expected, was the importance of taking children outside to learn. Almost every research paper or book that I read on early childhood education included the idea of letting children come to their own conclusions—and one of the best ways for them to both formulate their own questions and come up with their own solutions is immersing them in a natural environment.”

Mike and I talked about how many different ways I could make that simple paragraph more my own. I could talk about how I built a log cabin outside with my sister and friend when I was about 10. I could talk about how one of my favorite memories of upper elementary school was that my teacher Ms. Angelakis would take us outside with a boatload of towels to sit on for free reading time whenever it was warm enough. I could even just throw in a couple side comments to make the writing slightly less bland. 

I know that it’s important to sometimes say less– my writing tends to get very “frilly”, or wordy, and I’ve been known to say the same sentence twice just because it sounds really good both ways. However, I have room in this thesis to add a little bit of personal flair– not frilliness, but flair– to make the thesis more fun and exciting and relatable for the reader to get through.

It’s a different way of thinking about “what do I need/not need” and I can definitely take the “flair or frill?” question and apply it to my Capstone project. Does this sentence add anything new and exciting? Is your personality coming across because of those three extra words? What do you really need?

Challenge Journal: making it not boring

Usually when I write, I write how I talk. Which is often pretty sassily with lots of tangents that sort of fit with the overall theme but sometimes don’t really at all. I think that it makes writing easier to read- you know, when the writing is kinda “train of thought-like”, and you can tell how the author’s brain works and that they’re a real human being.

When I write about super serious stuff that’s super important to me and that I’m pretty super worried about being judged about, I tend to lose my “train of thought” style of writing. I get nervous that people are going to see me as a crazy person, and I try to make my writing a little less “crazy”, if that makes any sense whatsoever. It’s almost as though I’m already revealing so much about myself and my life through just the content that I freak out and don’t want to also hand over the way I speak on a silver platter. It feels too personal, too real.

Last semester, I was in a very personal essay-writing class in which we played around with creating essays using different mediums. Before that class, I had never really written an essay on who I think I am- the fundamentals of what makes me me. I had written pieces on relationships and friendships that were more or less just story based, which, honestly, is a bit of a cop-out. I could show the reader bits and pieces of my personality based on how I felt about other people- a good tactic, but definitely taking the easier route.

Writing an essay (it turned out to be a photo essay) just about who I think I am was so freaking hard. I really wanted to start with this quote from Jim Rohn, “You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.” I restarted it six different times because every draft’s introduction just didn’t sound like me. They were so formal. I almost fell asleep reading back through them. I didn’t know how to make people care. My professor finally told me to just write how I talk. I wouldn’t say to someone “quote, you’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with, unquote, Jim Rohn.” I would say something more like…

“This guy named Jim Rohn once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” I only bothered to look Jim up because I wanted to get the quote completely right. It appears that he was a white, male, motivational speaker, if you care. I heard the quote a couple of weeks ago, and it was one of those things that stuck with me because it freaked me out.”

…and that’s how I ended up starting the paper.

It’s definitely been difficult over the course of this project to just write how I talk and not get too “preachy”. I didn’t want to make it sound as if I though I knew everything and was the world’s next Ghandi. I just wanted my writing to sound like me. By now, we’re far enough along in the process that I’ve just gotta hope I’ve achieved that.

Missed Opportunity

I would say that my biggest missed opportunity in terms of writing would be not working more on the writing side of my children’s book. Since I did it through the art school, the art side of it took the clear priority over the writing itself. My professors didn’t even ask to look at the script. They wanted to know what the story was about, obviously, but they didn’t care about the writing itself. All they cared about was my storyboarding and illustrations.

To be fair, they cared about what they understood. I probably wouldn’t have taken their writing critiques all that seriously– they, after all, had never written a children’s book and have spent the last 20+ years of their lives critiquing art. Not writing.

The actual writing part was way more difficult than I initially planned on. Creating a piece that’s only 800 words but describes an entire adventure story is not easy. Just to give an idea of how much cutting and finagling had to go into writing the script, here is the beginning of my first draft:

Ryder doesn’t find much joy in sitting inside. He would much rather be playing soccer, catching new, interesting bugs, wondering how squirrels possibly could climb up trees so fast without being scared of falling.
Today he is sitting on his porch, counting how many bounces he can get on his racquet with his favorite red bouncy ball. Pn the twentieth bounce, the ball hits the racquet on a weird angle and flies through the air, bouncing, rolling, and finally stopping right at the entrance to the meadow.
Ryder leaves his red bouncy ball sitting at the entrance, and walks into the meadow. He isn’t allowed to explore the meadow alone until his eighth birthday, but it’s so soon, just two weeks away. And his mom and sister won’t be back for another two hours, at least. In just a few steps, he can barely see the entrance, the wildflowers growing up tall, so tall, around him. He looks up at the blue, blue sky and laughs. How strange a feeling to be surrounded by something so much bigger than you.

And here is the beginning of my final draft:

Ryder looked longingly towards the Avondale Preserve, the huge garden of wildflowers that grew right outside his backyard. 
He walked over to the entrance. His mom and sister wouldn’t be home for another three hours, at least. Just a bit of exploration couldn’t hurt.

Chopped.

After I sent the draft of it (very late in the game) to my mother and she gave me her (very many) critiques, I realized how little time I had put into perfecting the script. Which was a bummer. Because, obviously, the script is a huge part of a book. I’m sure that if I had put as much time into looking up writing inspirations as I did into illustration inspirations, my writing would not have gotten hacked up quite as much by mother darling. She even said to me—in a very kind way—that my book was “great” but could be “terrific.”

I’m still proud of the final project I created. It is pretty great. But it could be terrific.

Challenge Journal 1: Boredom

So I may or may not have accidentally swapped hard drives with my darling mother before leaving for school. Which means that I may or may not just have a hard drive full of 8 years worth of family photos as opposed to my freshman and sophomore year writings and art pieces. Oops. Win some, lose most.

Anyway. I’d say that the thing that I struggle the most with in terms of writing is probably that I have zero motivation to write about things that I don’t care about. And it definitely shows. When I don’t care about something, the piece turns out bland and boring and I seriously feel for whichever poor professor had to read through it. This is such a long project that I’m definitely worried about losing steam midway, and I have to figure out ways to keep it fresh and exciting.

Right now, I’m pumped for this project. I’m an art student, and I think I’ve found a good happy medium between my writing and my art- I’m going to create a zine. Zines are basically just short magazines. They originally were made just because people wanted an economical (cheap af) way to get their ideas on paper. They’d use photocopiers and print as many copies as they could afford, fold them together, and hand them out to anyone who’d take them. Over the years, zines have become way more popular and less “the poor man’s magazine” and more a cool, trendy way to consolidate information.

I want to make my zine all about the word “right.” I love words that have dual meaning, and “right” has at least 3 solidly different definitions, which I find fascinating. My zine will include personal narratives, interviews with people about their opinions on the definition(s) of the word, illustrations, and whatever else I feel like throwing in there. I’m really truly hoping that this jumble of ideas will keep my brain happy and satisfied throughout the semester. So far, so good.

Due to the switch-up of the hard drives, I don’t have many examples of brutally boring pieces I’ve written in the past, maybe to all of our best interests. I guess you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you that when I’m told to write a piece on something that I do not have an opinion on or when I feel forced into writing something a certain way/ for a certain topic I don’t care about, the final product is definitely sub-par.

Wrapping it all up…

Well, this is it. I’m done. I feel as though this course has flown by; I have so many more places that I could go with the pieces that I’ve created this past semester.

I would say that there are two categories when it comes to becoming a better writer; the first being how good you are content-wise, and the second being about the fundamentals. Content-wise I grew as a writer this semester because I’m better aware of the fact that people are interested in what I’m really interested in. Throughout the process, my peers just kept asking me for more. More on the specifics regarding my relationship with my sisters, more on what I was feeling at the time, more about the why. On a slightly more boring note, fundamentally, I grew this semester because I have gotten better at playing with my drafts. I have always struggled with heavily revising pieces, letting go of previous brain-children. I like to think that all my first drafts are perfect and don’t need any radical revision, but that is rarely the case.

My blog group played a huge part in how far I’ve come this semester, and I want to take that newfound strength of being able to listen to and trust me peers forward with me onto the capstone. Trusting people, especially when it comes to your personal writing, is scary and hard. It’s difficult to hear people do anything but sing your praises, and, when they don’t, it’s difficult to imagine that they might be right.

I can’t wait to see what the next three semesters in the writing minor have in store for me.

My site!

Letter to Future Gateway Students

When I first started this course, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that I loved writing and (I thought and had been told) that I was pretty okay at it. I thought it would be a cool minor because all employers want to know that you can write, especially in today’s day and age, and because how cool is it to be minoring in something that you actually love to do.

When you come in to this course, you’re going to be asked to write about a topic. This was by FAR the part that I struggled at the most, because at first I tried to be way too interesting. My all-time favorite writing teacher (besides Shelley, of course) once told me that readers love two things: your struggle or something that they don’t understand (something that you’re super, super passionate about). When I chose my first topic, I forgot about this advice. I wanted to make my topic Greek Life and how I feel extremely torn about it. Honestly, I don’t really care all that much about Greek Life. I’m a junior and it’s not really a big part of my life anymore. So I realized that I had chosen a topic that wasn’t really a big struggle for me and I wasn’t super, super passionate about.

When I remembered Sharon’s (the writing teacher’s) advice, everything clicked. Duh. Write about something that I struggle with and that makes me unique–something I’m super, super passionate about. I decided to write about being the oldest of four girls and, let me tell you, as disgustingly cheesy as it sounds, the words just poured out. I had SO much to say. So, basically, all I’m trying to say is that my advice is to completely FORGET about your audience and to instead write something that you care about an insane amount. If you care, your readers will care. It’s as simple as that.

Even if you pick the perfect topic and the world seems to be dumping happy rainbows and sunshine into your lap, you will still struggle with the remediation project. Everyone does. And you should–the entire point of it is that you’re supposed to go outside your classic comfort zone and try something new and crazy. If you’re not struggling and a little bit scared for what your final whatever is going to look like, you’re probably not doing it right.

You should have so SO many questions regarding your remediation projects to ask your blog group and your teacher and your friends and your parents. Does this look okay? Does this sound okay? It should be unchartered territory for you, and, I don’t know about you, but for me when it comes to unchartered territory, I need a lot of gentle hands on my back giving me advice and urging me on. So for the remediation project, get scared. Go outside your comfort zone, let yourself feel uncomfortable, and be willing to hear other people’s advice–whether it be good or bad. Being vulnerable and feeling like you’re not doing something that you are amazing at is absolutely terrifying, but can benefit you as a writer and a person so much in the long run. If I only ever did things that I thought I was great at, I would be majoring in jumping rope with a minor in Netflix binge-watching. But here I am, way, way, way outside my comfort zone with a major in art and a minor in writing. Do I know what I’m doing with my life? Hell no. But I know that I’m doing something where I have to push myself every day to go outside my happy little comfort zone in order to improve and be the best I can be.

I’m not positive if I answered all the questions we were supposed to get at. My biggest takeaways from the course? Well, I guess to just go for it and to trust my instincts. What heart/spirit/mind advice do I have? Wow this seems really funny that I am being trusted to give any of you advice when I haven’t even finished my own project, but I would say to just take it slowly and to let other people help you. Some of the best major revisions that I made came from people in my blog group and from Shelley. Try to not let your ego get in the way of anything–I doubt that any of you have ever been in a class with a bunch of people who are actually good at writing. I know for a fact that I take peer advice .0001% of the time. This is the one class ever that you really truly should take peer’s advice. They’re good. You’re good. Get great.

Good luck with everything! You’ll be amazing.

Drafting & Revising

So far in this process, I’ve only really thought about my project as a bunch of individual pieces as opposed to one cohesive portfolio. I haven’t thought much about my overall website layout and what I want my overall portfolio to convey to the reader. Honestly, just thinking about it gives me a bit of a headache. After reading this chapter, however, I’m feeling a little bit better because I now have a basic checklist of what exactly I’m supposed to be working on.

Feedback, whether it’s your own or someone else’s, can be really overwhelming. Going through it with specific concerns/questions in mind, however, can make it seem like a lot less information that you have to weed through. I love the last page of this chapter where they give you specific questions to consider: for example, ‘What are the most important changes I need to consider as I revise?’ I’m definitely going to create a list of important things to focus on when I’m going back into my original piece, or my final project.

The only time that I’ve ever had to revisit a project this much has been with art as opposed to writing. I’ve never had to completely rework a piece of writing, but doing this has made me think so much more about my overall topic. Even though I’m keeping the same audience for my two pieces that I’ve started so far, they’re both very different in almost every other way, forcing me to rethink what I want my overall point to be regarding my relationship with my sisters. Writing is more similar to art than I often realize–one piece is almost never perfect, but instead always has room to grow.

Where I’m At

So far, I have been super back and forth with what I’m going to do. Not so much what piece I am going to work with–that’s been the same from the start–but instead what I’m going to do with it. My original piece was written for an English 325 class about growing up with the “perfect” younger sister. At first, I wanted my first re-purposing assignment to be a short story about me and Julia when we were little; specifically, I wanted it to be about how it was when we found different things to be passionate about that we really became friends. However, after reading a bunch of parenting articles on “how to raise stellar sisters!!” I found that it’s apparently super unhealthy to give your daughters titles. I.e. I am the “artsy one,” Julia is the “athletic one,” Clare is the “one that sings,” and Cecily is, well, “the youngest.” (Oh, yeah, I don’t think that I mentioned that I am the oldest of four girls.

So now I am off on a different route. I am instead going to put my energy into writing a creative nonfiction piece on being the oldest sister and all the twists and turns that go along with that title. I mainly decided to do this after realizing that almost every single article that I came upon that had to do with sister dynamics was meant for the parents. How lame. Why is no one writing articles for the sisters themselves? So often, I feel like it’s way harder for us to tolerate us than for my mom or dad to tolerate us. I mean, they’re not the ones sharing a bathroom with Julia, or being the team captain of a team that Clare is on, or patiently explaining to Cecily why I do not feel comfortable with her barging in on the low-key parties I would throw in the basement from time to time. I would have loved to read an article by a (semi) cool older sister on how to handle your siblings like three years ago. I feel like it maybe would have saved me some sanity.

The next roadblock I’m going to have to get around is where this article/blogpost/whatever would best be published. I want high schoolers/some middle schoolers to have access to it, and, quite frankly, all my friends (I say my friends and not me because I was a total nerd) really read in high school was their Facebook feeds and, every now and then, some Seventeen Magazine. If anyone has any ideas, they’d be much appreciated.

Thank You, Mr. Falker

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Growing up, one of my all-time favorite authors was Patricia Polacco. And if I was ever forced to choose my favorite of her books that lined my pink polka-dotted bookshelf, my answer would have been Thank You, Mr. Falker. When I read this assignment, I decided to go back and look at it after all these years to see if I still thought it was “all that.” And, honestly, I think I love it even more now.

Patricia Polacco illustrates all of her books herself. Each page’s illustration beautifully coincides with the writing. If you didn’t love the characters just from reading the story, you would definitely love them after flipping through the physical book. Each page is yet another colorful painting that makes you want the characters come alive just so you can give them a hug.

However, it’s not just the illustrations that make Patricia Polacco’s books so great. Thank You, Mr. Falker begins with Trisha’s grandfather giving her a book with a dollop of honey on top of it. He tells her to taste the honey and Trisha responds that it tastes sweet. Her grandfather answers, “‘Yes, but so is knowledge, and knowledge is like the bee that made the sweet honey, you have to chase it through the pages of the book!'”

Throughout the rest of the book, Trisha’s grandparents pass away and she finds herself feeling very alone and struggling with reading. It isn’t until Mr. Falker comes along and understands why she is struggling and appreciates her and tells her that she is smart that she finally begins to feel comfortable with herself again. The story ends with Trisha learning how to read and running up to her room, putting a dollop of honey on the same book that her grandfather had a few years before, and saying those same words out loud to herself.

Thank You, Mr. Falker is a work of creative non-fiction. Of course, I didn’t realize this when I was in fourth grade, pouring over its pages. I barely even knew the difference between non-fiction and fiction. Now, going back to one of my childhood favorites, I can better understand how brilliant it is. Thank You, Mr. Falker is a true story about how Patricia Polacco learned how to read. The book comes full circle, starting with a happy, carefree girl, then depicting a hard struggle she had to go through, and coming back to the happy place she began at. Her “happy place” is represented by the honey on the book, and her struggles are outlined by conversations with bullies and descriptions of how worthless and unappreciated she felt.

I would love to emulate Patricia Polacco’s work. I think that it is fun and easy to read, but also really timeless and important. She perfectly captures the voice of young Patricia in third person, something which isn’t easy to do. Her illustrations create a child-friendly dynamic, but the theme is one that any person can relate to–the idea of not fitting into a certain set of standards. I find Patricia Polacco’s Thank You, Mr. Falker to be an excellently written book and also intellectually/artistically engaging.

 

Sadly, my copy is at home on my (no longer pink polka-dotted) bookshelf, but I did find a youtube video of someone reading it out loud so you can see the illustrations!

Multimodality in Everyday Texts

The first chapter of Writer/Designer, a book by Kristin Arola, Jennifer Sheppard, and Cheryl E. Ball, talks about the different types of modes that we see in everyday life- whether that be with advertisements, articles, or just in the way that we talk to others.

There are five types of “modes” that this book mentions. They are as follows:

Linguistic: the use of language (written or spoken words) – a good example of the linguistic mode is a novel. In novels, the authors do not use pictures or spacial awareness in order to convey their ideas. Instead, they stick with words; this includes the “organization of writing or speech into phrases, sentences, paragraphs, etc.”

Visual: the choices involved with the color, layout, style, size and perspective of images that readers see – an example of the visual mode is a flyer or billboard (basically anything with visual information)

Aural: the sound that accompanies whatever we might be watching – i.e. music, sound effects, silence, tone of voice, volume

Spatial: the physical arrangement; the arrangement, the organization and the proximity between people or objects – an example of using the spatial mode would be how a website is organized or how a brochure might be folded

Gestural: the way that movement (i.e. body language) can make meaning; this includes facial expressions, hand gestures, body language and interaction with other people – when giving a speech, it’s extremely important to be aware of the gestural mode.

The book explains that most advertisements are “multimodal”, meaning they use two or more modes to help them get their point across. For instance, a billboard is not only visual, but it also uses text (linguistic) and the arrangement of the text and the images is well thought out, making it spatial as well.

Over the past few days, I’ve been on the lookout for multimodal examples. Here are a few that I came across:

  • I’m in a graphic narrative class, so almost everything that we read is at least three modes – spatial, visual, and linguistic. I’m reading the book Persepolis for the first time and am amazed at how much thought went into each page design.

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  •  My friend shared a video on Facebook from Refinery29’s page about Leslie Knope from Parks and Rec. The video involved the gestural mode, as the entire video was clips of the character Leslie Knope (so gestures, body language etc.). The video was also an example of aural mode, as there was background music playing in addition to Leslie talking. It was visual because the perspective and style of each clip had to be chosen and was also, for a similar reason, spatial– the creator of the video had to decide the order of the clips shown. Finally, the video is also linguistic, as Leslie Knope and other characters are talking the entire time. Therefore, I do think that this video (an other videos like it) cover all 5 modes.

https://www.facebook.com/refinery29/videos/10154584155102922/

  • Snapchat has a feature where you can see various news articles above your friends’ stories. They have everything from CNN to Cosmo. When you open them, each one of these mini articles comes with sound (making them aural) and the background of the front page of them is usually a creative picture or comic (visual) accompanied with text (linguistic). The spatial mode is important to make the mini article easy/fun to read (the placement of the images vs. text). The only mode that not every single one of them uses is gestural, but because some of the articles have videos of people attached, gestural is often included as well.
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    CNN article cover page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After completing this exercise, I realized that almost everything that we see and read is multimodal – all the way from the cookbook on my shelf to the snapchats that I watch in the morning. We, as humans, have been using the multimodal technique for as long as we’ve been around. Even the cavemen had hieroglyphics in addition to drawings.

How the modes are used within the texts and how the artists choose to style each design differently does contribute to how different they all are. For example, the New York Times definitely would use different fonts and different layouts than a news source such as Refinery29.