Letting Them Down Easy

I’m nearing the end of my project and I’m not quite sure how to end it. I know this is a common issue, but the reason I’m finding it so difficult is because I’m offering up a problem without a solution. I’m pretty much saying: here’s what’s wrong with the world and there’s nothing you can do about it. I knew this going in, my peer review group was decided based on the fact that the three of us were talking about issues that we cannot solve. Surprisingly enough, that doesn’t make it any easier. So now I’m stuck trying to figure out what to do.

To give some details I’m approaching conflict from the angle that many things that are labeled conflicts are really just fights and fights and arguments are completely different things. To do this I’m doing a case study analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, giving a ton of context and then saying…none of this matters because it has become a power struggle. In my attempt at an introduction to the conclusion I’ve written this:

“So, what’s going to happen? What is the right solution? These are questions that have been considered time and time again by governments, grassroots organizations, and even people who follow the conflict from a distance. Can I say what is going to happen? Can this project? The answer is no. And that’s not the point of giving you all of this information. What I want you to see, and what I’m trying to see, is that all of this context exists and the conflict continues despite it.”

The problem is this is a lot of showing and not telling. And I do that a lot. I try to get my point across by saying “Hey, this is my point! Here you go!” But in reality that’s not the most effective way to write, and I know that. I’m stuck trying to figure out how to leave readers with the right message without saying…this is the right message.

An example of this and how I could have done it better is from a paper I wrote for a history class sophomore year. I ended it by saying:

“Take a look around while sitting in a classroom, walking through the diag, or even in the library and it is apparent the population here is predominantly white. I don’t think this has to do with any racism on the University’s part or even any explicitly present racism at all, instead there is a sense of structural racism based on unequal opportunities provided on the basis of race. If someone like Bernal had come along sooner the image of a university would be vastly different. The fact that people of color and minorities in general were put at such a disadvantage at a very early point in time caused a drastic and visually apparent inequality in modern day education systems. If the Aryan Model had never been created and the racism behind it’s development never accepted I think there would be no need for Affirmative Action programs, quotas, or any type of race based help.”

And I could’ve done this so much better. I could’ve described in detail the experience of walking through the diag, the absence of acknowledgement of race through a story rather than just saying “this is what you see.” I need to make sure I don’t take the easy way out and give an unoriginal statement at the end of this semester-long project. I want to paint a picture in the minds of my readers that they can take with them and call upon whenever a question like the one I posed arises.

Missed Opportunity

Abstract topic, minimal experience, and a 4-page-max-assignment:

Freshman year I wrote a paper for English 125 that was supposed to answer the question “when did you learn to write?” This question in itself is almost comical because looking back I realize that as a first semester freshman in English 125, I did not know how to write. I thought I did. But for me to reflect on when I learned to write, and I mean actually write, it infers that I actually knew how. Regardless, I went on with the assignment because I really didn’t have a choice and looked back toward an 8th grade language arts teacher as my mentor and inspiration for learning how to write. This story isn’t false, this is when I began to love writing and words and was going through a particularly angsty part of my life that offered a volcanic eruption of emotion every time I took pen to paper. But I didn’t know what I was doing. I was 13 years old, full of a confusing combination of resentment for the world, childlike innocence, and well, hormones. For me to have known how to do anything except for attempt to put all of those feelings onto paper was silly.

Fast forward to freshman year and as old and mature that I may have felt, I was a child. I had lived on my own for at most 3 months when this assignment was given to me and “on my own” meant in a dorm, with a roommate, a security guard, and three of my best friends. Learning to write was, again, not in my realm of ability. Not to mention the fact that this reflective, personal narrative was one of five assignments we had in English 125. It was impossible to produce a paper that actually answered the question.

If I was offered instead a semester’s length and the maturity of having lived 22 years of life (yes that is sarcasm) then I would’ve approached the question in a much different way. I would acknowledged that I am constantly learning to write, I have not “learned.” And yes, that 8th grade language arts teacher who offered a positive outlet for my teenage angst, he would’ve gotten his shoutout. But the entire paper would not have been about him, it would have been about me. This is where I think the opportunity was lost on me. 

Here is an excerpt, as embarrassing as it may be to post, from this “when I learned to write” paper that shows just how little I talked about myself: “That is when I realized how much Mr. Honeyman taught me and how much writing had altered me. Among my stories about my mom and the man on the plane, I realized that I also wrote about him. Mr. Mark Honeyman was suffering from a disease similar to Parkinson’s disease called essential tremor. It caused chronic tremors that hindered his ability to do the simplest tasks. He would arrive in the morning to class with milk all over his shirt from not being able to steady his hand as he ate cereal for breakfast earlier that day. On some occasions it would even take a few tries just for him to put his glasses on to begin class. The lesson that he taught us in all of this was to be open.”

Challenge Journal 2: How to Make History Not Boring

For my project I have to offer a good amount of historical background and context in order to get the reader to where I want them to be. I’m trying to prove a point by taking readers back far enough to the point where they see a time before the conflict in question. In doing so, I’m forcing myself to give some pretty ancient history. Personally, I really enjoy history, but that might be part of my downfall. I’m trying to take information from scholarly articles that is pretty much just a bunch of facts written in fancy, hard-to-read language and turn it into something that is actually interesting to read.

My approach to this is to use as many metaphors, contemporary references, and breaks as I can to bring the readers back to the idea that this is relevant and can be relevant in what we see today. I try to give a little information then pull the readers back so that they don’t feel an overload of facts being thrown at them that they might not care about. I’m essentially writing as if I were talking to the readers, using the word “we” a lot so as to show that we are in this history lesson together and if we can make it through it will all make sense.

Here’s a sample sentence of how I try to make it easier to get through:

“Before we get into the conflict, though, I want to first explain the religious claim that Jews have to Israel in order to start building the foundation of knowledge that is needed to truly understand where this conflict came from. We are traveling back now, back to before Islam and even before Christianity. Back to when the people Israel (what Jews called themselves), led by Moses, escaped Egypt and over the course of what could’ve been anywhere from a decade to a century, gained control of the land, which was supposedly promised to them as Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel) by God.”

Basically, by adding the parentheses and grouping myself with the readers I’m trying to make reading history more fun and appealing. Hopefully, it’s working.

Challenge Journal 1

My biggest concern in beginning this project is finding a balance between academic writing and giving myself a voice. The purpose of my project is to find some way to try to explain the Israel-Palestine conflict so as to undo the oversimplification that currently exists. I am trying to communicate to my readers that the conflict is not one of religious nature, but instead a territorial dispute that is categorized by religion and that no one should be taking a side based on belief alone, which is something I have noticed occurs among my peers. Most of my writing is academic, obviously seeing that I’m a student, but I want this to be more than just a boring research paper. I want people to be interested and I want to offer clarification. I want people to come away from project with an informed opinion, regardless of whether they agree or disagree with my claims.

I think it’s going to be particularly difficult to give myself a voice in this project because I don’t want my writing to be looked at as overwhelmingly biased. Has anyone else had trouble attempting to make a neutral piece of writing while also not getting lost in it? I need to find a way to mix academic with personal and make it entertaining so that my project isn’t just another informational paper on an already widely discussed conflict.  I know a lot of what I want to do with my project, but I’m just not sure how to do it.

I’m re-visiting this post to offer some academic writing I’ve produced in the past that is an example of what I am trying to stay away from. Here is an excerpt from a research design project from last semester:

“After reviewing many of the existing studies there seems to be a threshold of educational attainment at which conflict is less likely to occur, which is completing secondary education. In Barakat and Urdal’s 2009 study on youth bulges and political violence their “empirical analysis finds evidence that large, young male population bulges are more likely to increase the risk of conflict in societies where male secondary education is low.” Further along in their study they find that as higher levels of education is attained the effect does not change regarding conflict risk. This particular study focuses on youth bulges, educational level, and conflict. Barakat and Urdal theorize that often times youth bulges lead to larger participation in rebel groups, but having more educated individuals offers a high opportunity cost on the lives of young men, thus making them less likely to join a rebel group.”

I think my biggest issue with this is that since I’m using information from scholarly articles I tend to write as if I were writing a scholarly article myself. And scholarly articles are boring. I need to find a way to combine some personal anecdotes or individuality to a lot of history. I think one of the main ways to stay away from the type of writing above is to not reference specific studies or random names, but to take the information and present it in a way that makes it a journey for both the reader and myself.

Why I Write: My Voice

I think the draft I submitted of Why I Write is a solid attempt at representing my voice in this context. In much of my writing I use satire or sarcasm, but this piece of writing was a little more serious and therefore that aspect of my voice was left out. I had a detailed personal anecdote that allowed me to add some narration and show how I would act in certain situations rather than just tell my readers. I think using examples of real life is always more effective than telling someone “I like to write because I like to make a point” or something along the lines of just stating facts. Self reflections and personal analysis are something I am not used to writing and therefore I’m not entirely sure what my voice is. I’m not taking a stance on anything, proving a point, or making any jokes. This prompt is so different from what I am used to writing that I don’t know whether I am representing my voice correctly or even at all. I definitely want to go back and see what about my voice in other pieces of my writing I can take and add to this. I wrote it almost formally and was trying solely to answer the question rather than make it a unique piece of writing.

Reading and How to Make it Better

I have never been one to say I hate reading. Even among all the Great Gatsby assignments about the symbolic green light and in depth analysis about Of Mice and Men, I was never turned off to the act of reading itself. Getting lost in a good book has always excited me. However, when I got to college I started to realize that reading entailed a lot more than just novels. I am forced to read textbooks, lectures, articles, and lately 19th and 20th century stories about Orientalism in French. As one may assume, this is a lot less exciting. My eyes get tired from constantly skimming over information I couldn’t care less about and stopping every few sentences to take notes to the point where I am utterly sick of reading altogether. When it comes time to relax I find that all I want to do is stare mindlessly at a screen and let someone else put in the effort to tell me a story. After our discussion in class I have come up with a few ways to make reading more enjoyable in the midst of my studies.

  1. Read in bed. Sitting at a desk, the couch, or any other place I am likely to do work is a complete turn off. My bed is where I relax so reading there instead of other places makes it a more relaxing activity rather than a task to get done as quickly as possible.
  2. Read slowly. I have become a fast reader over time and I think this is mainly because I have to be. Reading slow makes it less like an assignment and more like something I actually want to be doing.
  3. Put my phone away. Often times when I’m doing work I use my phone as a reward. One finished chapter or article=a few minutes on my phone. By taking my phone out of the equation I am destressing by removing myself from the world of social media as well as taking away a stressful distraction. No one can remind me that I forgot to do my online reading quiz if I don’t get their texts!
  4. If I don’t like a book, stop reading. I tend to start books because someone recommended it, but often times those “someones” are my friends who are annoyingly obsessed with romance novels. Over the summer I read Girl on the Train because of how much everyone raved about it only to find it slow, depressing, and predictable. Unfortunately, I had to finish because I had started. Being able to stop a book I don’t like is difficult, but I think it will help me read more of what I do like by not wasting my time.

Repurposing Questions

  1. What are the criteria for someone to become a refugee?
  2. How does it get decided where they go?
  3. How long does it take to be relocated?
  4. What process do they undergo?
  5. How does the government decide who we let into our country?
  6. What is the biggest struggle they face when leaving their country?
  7. What is the main culture shock when coming to America?
  8. Are all Syrian refugees Muslim?
  9. How do they find jobs?
  10. Do they know any English?

On the basis of these questions the reader needs a basic understanding of the logistics on how refugee programs work. However, as a writer I need to make the reader invested in the answers of these questions. I will use personality narratives and interviews to allow for readers to get to know refugees on a more personal level than just statistics and rules. I want to try and create a connection and make readers invested while also providing my take on the situation and my own experience working with them.

The reader has access to a plethora of news sources with a combination of all different opinions both mild and extreme regarding stigmas on refugees as well as official decisions they believe should be made. On top of that it’s very possible readers have their own opinion formed based on the relevancy of the topic.

News Sources

While it may seem obvious, after deliberation and a lot of searching online for news sources I really do believe the New York Times is perfectly aimed toward me and my peers as an audience. It’s not only easily accessible, but it also provides articles that are easy to comprehend without dumbing down information. Even more depicting of how it aims to please an audience that includes myself is the organization of the site. The amount of different topic headings shows that it provides news on a wide range of matters; this allows for readers who don’t necessarily only enjoy reading about politics. Adding those sections for entertainment makes it less intimidating for younger readers while also having sophisticated writing.

I then spent some time looking for news that was, in the nicest way possible, too dumb for me. I looked around online for awhile before remembering that I get daily emails from the Skimm, which is basically a quick summary of the news from the previous day. It includes fun, attention-grabbing hooks for each section and a few brief sentences about the event or issue. Things like, “Yesterday, Wells Fargo was fined $185 million for being shady AF,” with a hyperlink to get more info on the topic if you want it. It is a very simple, very easy to read news source. 

Finally, as hard as it is to admit that something is beyond my abilities to comprehend I found that the World Affairs Journal might be just that. For one, the only news option is about world affairs, and while I am an international studies major and should be more invested in it I just don’t have time to sit down and read a 2,000 word article on any country’s problems. Then, as I was struggling to stay focused I found several references throughout the article that I simply didn’t understand. I’m not sure if it’s something I should understand and don’t or if it really is just for history buffs who know everything about everything.

Voice

While looking at the topics listed that are supposed to help me decipher what my voice is I realize that my argumentative nature seems to be present in all of them. For performance, or how I use written language as if it were spoken language, it’s apparent that I take sort of a defensive, explanatory stance on most things I form an opinion on. I also find that on many occasions while editing a paper I use the word “however” way too often. I think this is because I try to allow room for counterarguments a lot throughout my papers because I also tend to like to disprove arguments or opinions different from my own. As for theme and topic it’s no surprise that I gravitate toward controversial issues. Even in classes where I didn’t love the topic, I love to take a stance and defend what I deem right. Since I decided on my major of International Studies and most of my classes have to do with international relations I often find myself choosing arguments regarding the comparisons of how one culture does something versus another. I have always found it interesting to look at different ways of thinking about the same topic. If the previous two answers didn’t provide enough insight on my personality I will say that when describing myself I would use the following adjectives: stubborn, strong willed, and invested. When I find something I care to write about I get overwhelmed by the amount there is to learn about the topic, and often times offended when someone tells me I shouldn’t be or I’m wrong; a trait I know I have to work on, but have a hard time doing so. Finally, the formal markers, the compositional choices that I consistently make. I guess in most of my rough writing I will find super long, drawn out sentences with lots of punctuation, adjectives, and examples. I think this has to do with having so much to say and not being able to think fast enough to get it all out coherently. Even after going back and editing I still have a lot of long sentences because of this.

There are several reasons why I acquired this need to be heard and stubbornness. For one, my dad is a lawyer. As you would expect he is extremely stubborn and loves to argue, and it’s not that I picked up these traits watching him, I think he genetically predisposed me to being stubborn and argumentative. If that weren’t enough to spark the fire inside me, my mom is a writer. Herein lies why my arguments exist both both on paper and orally. Even further, is that I am the second of four children; I had to be loud to be heard. What did we have for dinner? We had whatever the loudest kid wanted. Sitting shot gun? You better scream for it. A combination of these three things, and maybe some others a long the way, built my voice and taste for some good old fashioned conflict.

Genre and Form

In class we discussed the different ways that genre can be defined. Most definitions included some sort of organizational system that split books, movies, music, and other creative works into categories. I find it hard to disagree with the fact that genre does, in fact, in some way or another, allow for creative works to be split into groups.

I think of form and genre in the way a math teacher explains rectangles and squares. All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. By this I mean that all genres have a type of form to them, but not all forms can be made into a genre. I look at genre as a general term for the types of categories we divide things into. Let’s look at different types of writing as an example, seeing as this post is for a Writing blog. In class we talked about how fiction is a genre, and among fiction there are subgenres, “lesser genres” as we discussed, including Science Fiction, Young Adult, Crime, Mystery, Horror, etc. These are all examples of genres based on the content of a story. Most book stores are organized like this with a section for nonfiction, cook books, biographies and autobiographies, children’s books, and many more. Then you take a look at what I’m doing right now: writing a blog post. I consider this to be another type of genre. In this section we have essays, blog posts, articles, editorials, research papers, and other, seemingly shorter, types of writing. In this case the genres are split by the form of the type of writing. A play, for instance, would be in the form of dialogue and actions scenes. An essay will often start off as an outline before developing into literary form. That’s not to say you can’t go back and take all of the novels in the Young Adult section of Barnes and Noble and start to split them up by form, creating a way too specifically organized book shelf. Although I’m not sure why anyone would ever do that.

In essence, genre is how we split creative works up into categories. It’s a sorting mechanism that we use because it makes things easy to find and easy to talk about, creating genres makes things easy. Form, on the other hand, is a type of a genre. It is a potential way that we could split up creative works if what we desire is based on how something is created rather than the content of what a reader would be delving into. So while most things have a genre, and everything has form, I think the difference is how we choose to categorize these pieces of writing.