Droushia to Detroit: Introducing my story of my grandfather’s journey in life

The website, entitled “Droushia to Detroit: Nick Zingas’ Story as Cypriot Immigrant to America” is a personal project for me. Nick Zingas is my grandfather, who I refer to as “Papou” throughout the site. The stories held within the site (which you can access here: nzingas.wixsite.com/zingas-journey)are family stories. But though this is very personal and introspective for me, I still believe others — especially for those dealing with adversity and trying to find the strength to carry on — can learn from the story of Papou, as well as my reflections.

Telling of his hardships in Cyprus, Detroit, and eventually as owner and manager of Mama Mia’s restaurant (see “Looking Back: Listen to the Story”) has helped me look back into my own life and examine what’s important to me. Using that, I now look forward with a rejuvenated perspective on what it means to be successful in today’s day and age (see: “Looking forward”). My reflections, which are scattered throughout the project, try to capture what this story means to me, and try to relate to readers how they might be able to learn from this story as well — whether they are already familiar with it, or not.

The webpages are arranged scrap-book style. Imagery, video, audio, and writings thrown onto each page with no particular consistency. Each page is meant to provide an appealing visual, while creating an informative narrative for each particular aspect of Papou’s life. Though in my writing I tried to hit on things that I thought was important, I left a couple things unexplained. For example there is this quote at the bottom of the home page on my website:

“Man, supposing you and I, escaping this battle, would be able to live on forever, ageless, immortal, so neither would I myself go on fighting in the formeost, nor would I urge you into the fighting where men win glory. But now, seeing that the spirits of death stand close about us in their thousands, no man can turn aside or escape them, let us go on and win glory for ourselves, or yield it to others.”
— Homer, The Iliad.

I put this quote on the home page of my project because I think it does a great job summing up what Papou’s story means to me…

Basically, I am “escaping the battle”. My grandfather and my father worked tirelessly to give me everything I could have wanted as a child. No cold nights on the streets — rather a warm bed and a babysitter to take me to school in the morning. I didn’t have to fight to survive — rather, I could go my whole life without “fighting in the foremost” and be ok. But, because of the family that I’m from, I don’t want to do that. I feel that looking to my grandfather as inspiration helps me realize that “the spirits of death stand close about us in their thousands” and that “no man can turn aside or escape them”. So now, as I move forward into the future — having learned from my Papou’s story and reflected upon it — I can go on and win glory for myself, or yield it to others.

I hope you enjoy this project!

A crazy guy who loves vacations

Thank goodness for mothers. I was feeling very uninspired in my writings a couple days ago, and somehow telepathically (without even talking to her) I feel like my mom knew that.

Writing and reflecting on what I thought about during my childhood and upbringing is much harder than actually looking at what I wrote back then. And what my mom sent me was a picture of a poem I wrote in 6th grade (Mrs. Case’s honors English class).

“Found some great things cleaning out my office”

Entitled “I am a crazy guy who loves vacations”, this might not be meaningful for anyone in the world except myself. It’s meaningful for me to see how I was thinking and writing back in 6th grade, and I feel like some of those aspirations are still with me today.

My mom (by sending me this) helped me realize that sometimes, the most important audience you can have, is yourself. I’ve been through so many courses and lessons that have taught me how to target an audience, how to write with purpose, and I feel I’ve gotten better and better at that. But ultimately, writing is a very introspective and self-absorbed process. I think you can learn a lot about yourself from writing — but only if it comes from the heart. I think that every word in that poem I wrote in 6th grade was true about myself (not what I wanted other people to hear about myself, but rather what I actually thought and felt). I think the only way to truly learn from my writing is to be truthful in that writing.

I hope that 10 years from now I can look back at this project and learn something about the way I thought/felt back in college, and how that may or may not have changed.

As I come to crunch time on my family history project, taking the lessons of “a crazy guy who loves vacations” can help me see that “huge mountain blocking my path” and barrel right through.

Kali Anastasi (Happy Resurrection Day)

“Happy Hash Bash!” A chipper woman greets me as I walk down the street on this beautiful, snowy “April” morning. However, a very different holiday is on my mind… it’s Greek Easter (or Gr-easter as my friends jokingly call it) this weekend.

Before I walked into church last night, my mind was racing. All the things I had to do this weekend and in the next two weeks before I graduate (whew) were running again and again through my mind…

I could’ve went and worked on this project last night, I could have worked on my research thesis, I could have went to play basketball, I could’ve gone out with my friends.

The beauty of the service was unparalleled, with the kouvouklion — majestically and intricately designed, covered completely in red and white flowers — placed at the center of the altar to represent the Tomb of Christ, and the entire church singing the hymnals in Greek together.

I was suddenly taken back to a similar time in my life… right around Easter 2014 — with a similar graduation and rite of passage impending. At that time, I stood at the front of the church and gave a speech as part of the St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival. When I got home from the service last night, I went to my computer to find that speech.

“With many people, my friends included, religion is something that is for home, for Sundays, and it is easy to forget about God when I’m around school or other places. And next year I’ll be at college – away from my parents and my church for a much longer period of time, which will make it even harder to stay on the path towards Christ. So with all these problems and obstacles in our way, how do we still build a lasting relationship with God and become servants of the Lord? Well, I would follow the advice of 1st Letter of John 3:18. ‘Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.’” — Cole, circa 2014

In that speech, I really hit on some of the things that are important to me in my life and wondered if they would continue to be important in my future — school, humility, faith, and family; in particular. Well, with this project being so focused on family, I’m suddenly brough back to all the values that come with my Christian family upbringing.

My advice to myself — that actions speak louder than words — is something that I realize that I learned from my grandfather. The actions he took in his life have been powerful, kind, and always done with purpose. How can I make my project (through words, ironically) reflect that sentiment? I think reflecting on my past last night and this morning has given me some good inspiration.

Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in St. Clair Shores, MI with the kouvouklion at the center.

Monday Motivation

The bulk of my work is yet to come. Last week, I felt burdened by the mountain that this work seemed to impose. This week, however, I feel different.

Spring break is supposed to be an opportunity to recover, and when you come back you’re supposed to feel rejuvenated and ready to finish your semester strong. I, on the other hand, came back 15 pounds lighter and very sick. Not ideal.

This weekend, however, as I was beginning to feel like my normal self again, I did another interview with my grandparents. Hearing their stories made me go back to my original purpose. THIS is why I was passionate about this project. THESE STORIES need to be recorded. These conversations (as well as a last-second Michigan basketball win) were what I needed to climb out of my rut.

So, for the last two weeks I’ve been focused on healing my body. Now, I can finally focus on healing my writing. With my illness, I’ve been out of my groove, unable to stick to any semblance of a routine. And as Tharpe says, “Art is a vast democracy of habit”. This week, my Monday morning routine is back. I’ve finally got a plan of attack. This bodes well for the upcoming week of writing, and I’m excited for it.

The writing and editing will be difficult, but no longer mountainous. Instead of my mind floundering, trying to swim upstream, I feel like my mind has finally found a boat (a healthy, energized body) to help me to navigate sometimes treacherous waters.

I’m feeling optimistic — now time to go create!

Jordan Poole’s face is my Monday motivation

Speed Dating 101

Prior experience with speed dating: I had a coffee shop interview with a woman from Brown when I was applying for undergrad, and she asked me, “If you were in the elevator with the current Brown president… what would you say?”

 

I froze. I had absolutely no clue what I would say. Elevator pitches, or speed dating, has always scared me a little bit. I addressed this fear when I was assigned a one-minute pitch to advertise to possible publishers a story I wrote on algal blooms in the Great Lakes. I did well, but that was easier — I had done all the work and written the story already, and I was able to know how to summarize my thoughts succinctly and get a point across. In this case though, my intentions are much more vague. I hope it goes well.

Expectations for speed dating: A first impression can go a long way. Making this a cohesive pitch is essential… I should only bring the most prominent or interesting details come to light. Because, when speed dating, people can only remember so much from each person. If I can make one thing stick out and have it remembered by everyone in the class, that would be a success.

Possibly, today will be the memory people jump back to when thinking about my topic for the remainder of the semester. This doesn’t mean people’s opinion of me can’t change, or that I can’t do something unexpected, but making a good first impression is important. Especially, it’s important for people that I won’t interact with on a weekly or class-by-class basis. So, I hope it goes well.

I want to captivate people’s attention, spark something that helps them to remember this project. That way, next time when I do a full pitch they are better mentally prepared to contribute and have ideas for me.

Results: Nervous at first, what helped me get through all six or seven “speed dates” was listening, asking questions of others, and putting my project in perspective; rather than just simply focusing on my own project individually. The more the pitches went on, I realized the things I was listening for:
– What motivates you to want to tell this particular story/project?
– Who are you going to reach, and how will you reach that audience in a unique way that hasn’t been done before?
– What experiences have you had that will help you write your story/project?

So, though I was excited to ramble about my idea and express my true passion and desire… to make my 4-minute speed dating pitch resonate I began to focus on these central questions. The more I gave the pitch, the more directed it was, and as a result I think I received better feedback.

Now… continuing to listen (to the feedback) will be essential in moving my project out of the brainstorming stage and making it a reality.

New Years Ritual-ution

When reading or working on my computer, I always have a pen and paper next to me. I like to think it’s there so that I can take notes and remember what I’m doing, but the really reason it’s there is because I don’t feel comfortable without it. It’s just something I’m compelled to do even though there might not be a great explanation for why it’s there. So, before I walk into the “white room” of whatever I’m about to do, pulling the pen and paper out to act as a buddy by my side is an example of a kind of ritual that helps me prepare to create.

As a high school baseball player, my coach was simply obsessed with rituals. Everything about each game had to be the same, from the order we walked off the bus, to the counting of stretches, finally to the infield and outfield warmup. If we messed up at all, he was absolutely infuriated. This was his ritual. Just I feel irked when I don’t have a pen and paper next to me when I’m writing on the computer, a faulty warmup would test Coach Cimini’s mental stability. Looking back, the reason he may have been so focused on this strict regiment (we thought it was absolutely absurd) because it was the part of the day that he felt like he could control. Once the game started, as a coach, the game was mostly out of his hands.

Tharp hits on this point as well. “To some this might seem superstitious, but a superstition is nothing more than a ritual repeated religously. The habit, and the faith invested in it, converts it into an act that provides comfort and strength.” When going into the creative environment (for Coach Cimini — managing the baseball game; for me — producing my best work for school), it is extemely beneficial to have ‘comfort and strength’. Wouldn’t it be great if we always felt comfortable, and strong?

I wish I had more ritual in my life. I can’t say that every morning I do a certain activity or each evening at 6:30 I watch Jeopardy. Mostly, I think it’s because my life is always changing, and I don’t mind constantly changing pace. It’s part of what keeps my head on a swivel, keeps me alert — the challenge and excitement of new experiences everyday. That being said, as Tharp points out, rituals don’t have to revolve completely around the activities you do. It can be as simple as taking ten deep breaths each day after lunch to recenter yourself and prepare yourself to have a productive remainder of the day.

I’d like to have an activity as a ritual, such as hailing a cab to the gym (as Tharp does) each morning. But my lifestyle has never been that structured and I’m not sure it will be in the next few months before I graduate. So, rather than focusing on an actual activity, a chunk of time, that becomes my ritual, I’m resolved to create ritual in other ways throughout my day.

OK here’s an idea: I’ll listen to the same song each and every time before I start work on my Capstone project. I’m interested to see how this will affect my state of mind and creative potential. As I’m getting started with brainstorming, analyzing potential ideas, and challenging myself to think in new, creative ways, this could be a way to put myself in a happy place of strength and comfort. Now, to the depths of Spotify to find a tune!

Putting it all together

I am astounded at how much I’ve progressed over the semester.  The main thing I’ve learned, however, is that writing is not all about essays.  It’s about displaying your ideas in a way that will captivate an audience.  As I’ve made this realization, my work has taken off.  It has opened my mind to so many more possibilities, and has made my writing so much more creative and interesting.  And it’s so great to see all my work come together, as compiled in my ePortfolio.

I want to walk you through my ePortfolio, titled “Piecing together a healthy lifestyle” as a testament to the many artifacts that I’ve created and pieced together in this portfolio.   My introduction features things that you should know about me: who I am, and why I write.  Two things that will give the reader a taste of who I am as a person, and context that will help them go through the remainder of the portfolio.

Then, the reader will be drawn to “Click Here to Access My Projects”.  I thought it was important to feature a link to get to these projects because these projects are the meat of the portfolio, and if the reader sees nothing else, they should take a look at my remediation and repurposing.  On the page, “Repurposing and Remediating”, I explain the projects so that those outside of the minor in writing will have no trouble catching on.  Then, it prompts the reader to enter each project.

On the repurposing page, I’ve included the website I created embedded in my site.  However, I’ve found that it can be a bit hard to navigate within another website, so I tried to feature a link that will bring the reader to my website in a new tab.  I’ve decided to do reflections on multiple pages– this means including drafts and writing about my process.  I think that this provides the reader with a good sense of how I came up with the website, and what my overall intentions are.

Clicking to the “Remediation” page brings the reader a similar reflection on the final, and links to access the drafts, which also have reflection.  The problem I’ve encountered here is that although the final product is meant to be an email, I could not figure out how to embed an email in my website, so I’ve included the PDF instead.  The boxes on the side prompt the reader to enter his/her email, so the email will be sent to their inbox, which is the intended format of my remediation.

And that’s it!  The reader can choose to click on the “More” tab to see more of my work, and they can contact me through the “Contact Me” page (no way!).

This semester has been a whirlwind of so many different projects and assignments in this class, and I’ve loved every second of it, but sometimes it was hard to see where my work was going.  Now, to have finished a portfolio showcasing my work is a tremendous feeling for me, as it wraps up the class and gives me a place to reference my work at any point in my life.

Here’s the link– www.nzingas.wix.com/colezingas

Hope you enjoy!

What If Orwell Was a Blogger?

There are some people who can’t help but write. These people all have their own styles, their own intentions, their own “demons” (which Orwell mentions in his essay “Why I Write”) that keep them going, and they’re all addicted. Despite the change in medium over the years, writing remains one of the best ways to get an opinion, get your views, your personality, out to the masses.

Didion, Orwell, and Andrew Sullivan all can not stop writing. All three are concerned with getting their views out there, whether it’s a novel that takes a year to develop, a newspaper article that goes through several painstaking rounds of edits, or a blog in which you just spat words of passion and fury onto a screen.

In their respective “Why I Write/Blog” pieces, they talk about something that keeps them going—for Didion it’s opening access to her brain, for Orwell it’s political purpose, and for Sullivan the thrill of prescience.   That’s great, everyone has his or her own reason for writing. But what sets the type of deliberate writing that Orwell did apart from Sullivan’s miscellaneous postings on the World Wide Web every few hours, is the ‘unfinished’ nature of the blog.

In my opinion, neither Didion or Orwell would be very good bloggers. Didion has a more “get it all on the paper” style, which might seem like it’s good for blogging, but as Sullivan puts it, blogging is superficial—readers don’t really have the patience to take an everyday circumstance and wonder what might have been, what could have been, and for the author gradually get his/her point out halfway through the fifth chapter through some symbol that the teacher pointed out.

Orwell, on the other hand, wants to get a viewpoint out there, and put some political purpose in his writing. But as a novelist, Orwell always got the last say. When posting a blog, you’re not finishing an argument—rather if you’re doing a good job, you’re probably starting one.   You’ve got to respond to comments, interact with your readers and other bloggers. You can have political purpose in a blog, but people won’t take the time to soak it up and think about your ideas for a few days like they would when reading a book. Rather they’ll probably write an illogical angry argument strewn with grammatical errors within minutes of your posting.

As for me, now I’m a veteran blogger, but I still don’t think I’ve gotten the full blog experience.   I appreciate the comments I get every week from my blog group members Kit and Annika, but the blogs we’re writing are mostly reflective, and don’t elicit a ton of heated debates in the comments section.   Posting something controversial, that everyone in the world has access to, and being ready to respond to the haters, is what blogging is all about.   I am excited to see where my fitness blog takes me, as I think that could be a forum for some great (and maybe contentious) conversation.

One question I have, that occurred to me when reading Sullivan’s essay, is about the hyperlink. Does it limit creativity? I know it’s a great way to support your ideas, but does tethering your words to someone else’s work hamper the creative process that is so essential to writing? I can’t answer this one, but I’d love to see what Didion and Orwell thought about that aspect of blogging, and if they would like it.

Going forward, I want to be fearless in publishing my own viewpoints and ideas. Getting them out there to a large audience is possible in today’s digital age, and I have confidence that my ideas are meaningful and have a place in society. So, as Orwell said, I’m going to write with ‘political purpose’ in the broadest sense of the term, and I’m going to do it in a creative way that shows my personality in full force. That’s the only way people will listen.   I think that blogs, and short online articles is the #1 way to get my views to reach others my own age.

However, connecting with young readers online has two sides, and can mean you lose a shot at getting the last say in an argument if you don’t play your cards right. Learning how to respond to online criticism in an intelligent and thoughtful way will be a very important skill for me to develop as I mature.

So far in the Minor in Writing, I’ve learned how to capture a young audience in several different ways, and I plan on continuing the use of multimodality in my personal writing, because I think it’s such a great way to connect with the reader.

Drafting, drafting, drafting…. and more drafting

Edit. Revise. Rework. Repeat.

Throughout the term, constantly we have been receiving feedback, reworking our projects, and frequently reflecting on our progress. It seems that this is a never-ending process that will never come together into something that is polished and publishable.

But this kind of meticulous, methodical revising has made me, and I think our class as a whole, think more critically and improve at both providing and receiving feedback. Incorporating suggestions from peers into my work is becoming much easier, and using the feedback I’ve gotten in the first half of the semester, I hope that going forward I won’t need as many pointers on my rough drafts.

So, in creating my remediation project, I can be more confident while working on my draft. With the help of the class, I’ve already nailed down a specific audience—college guys, become very familiar with the genre—online fitness advice, and I know the tone that I have to shoot for. What’s new for me about this specific project is the layout of the newsletter/email that I plan on sending out. I haven’t really done anything graphic like this before, so in my mockup I focused on the layout because the other elements of my email are more familiar to me and should be easier to incorporate.

Receiving feedback on my layout is important, so I want to really nail that down before I submit the draft. Today in class I heard from Kit and Annika on their opinions on the basic layout and flow I outlined in my mockup, and their feedback was very useful. I need to focus more on images, and they suggested spilling my email over onto more than one page. Kit suggested using Apple Pages to design my project—for my mockup I used an online graphic designer that I wasn’t particularly pleased with. Pages seems like a very good tool and I plan to use it to create the rough cut.  Below is the mockup I have so far.

My mock-up for the remediation.  I'll keep the same order, but I plan to use a different layout.

Another challenging aspect about the email I’m creating will be curating articles.   I’ve read so many, and there’s so many sources that I think I might have a hard time narrowing down my options.   Some questions I’ll have to consider when selecting articles:

  • What makes a fitness source credible?
  • Do I want to include my own blog?
  • How many articles should I include?
  • Should the articles only come from a one-week span (like The Lunch Read), or can I use articles that are maybe two or three weeks old?
  • How do I come up with an overarching topic for the email?

Thinking about these things now will make my life a heck of a lot easier down the road.

Even then, I’m going to need several sets of eyes looking over my work so that I can redraft again next week. Although I’m familiar with the topic and I’ve gained experience with multimodality, creating a weekly email is not something I’ve done before, and I’ll take all the help I can get.

After all this drafting, revising, and careful editing—how do I decide something’s ready to be put in the ePortfolio? I think that once I tidy up my repurposing project, and read it over once more, I can get a clear sense of what kind of message I want to send. When I am able to craft a final product that shares a similar message with my repurposing project, I’ll be done. That way, when I put my artifacts together in the ePortfolio, I have a complete composition with several multimodal elements conveying a similar message.

Compiling my artifacts and surveying them side-by-side to make sure they’re painting one, full picture will be essential when I’m creating my ePortfolio. But just making sure they have similar messages isn’t enough. Putting these elements into a flowing, coherent, visually appealing layout is crucial. This process of putting together the ePortfolio is also going to require editing, critical thinking, and extreme attention to detail—just what I’ve been doing all semester.

Although it might sound a little depressing, until the ePortfolio is done, we will always be drafting. My project will morph and change as we go on, and hopefully my ePortfolio will reflect something that I’m proud of. To get there, I’ve got to focus on addressing the concerns of classmates, friends, and others, and answering the tough questions that I’ve been asking all along.

Making my words REAL: Blogging About Remediation

When creating my repurposing project, I came across several things that I thought were interesting to explore in the future [which is upon us].

First, although a blog is a great venue for getting novel thoughts and ideas out into the cybersphere, there’s a certain stigma that blogs have that goes something along the lines of “no matter how credible the blog may seem, it is an unreliable source”. So even though I have tried to incorporate sources and research into my blog articles, they may or may not be regarded by the public as a good source of information. And in talking to my friends about blogs and my project in general (and I should listen to what they have to say seeing that they are my intended audience of college males), most of them don’t read blogs.   They’ll watch TV, go on social media, and even read magazine and newspaper articles. But for the most part they are unfamiliar with blogs, as I was too before I took this class.

So, while creating my repurposing project, I began to look at my work and ask myself how I can condense this information into a format that will be widely accessible, widely read, and contain information on fitness that won’t have to be taken with a grain of salt.

Second, in my blogs I wanted to include a lot of links to other things I’ve read online, and many times I found myself echoing a lot of prior research and articles. I don’t think this is completely a bad thing, because I do want to include the opinions of others. But I also want my blogs to be original and maintain my own voice and flair.

Finally, I don’t want to simply write about how to live a life that will help you stay in shape. I want to help people stay in shape. I don’t want to simply write about motivation. I want to motivate people. When you sit down and read my blog posts, you might feel more informed, have more insight than you did before you read them, or even feel uplifted. But will reading words on a computer screen resonate with you enough to go do something to change your lifestyle? I want to put in videos, music, quotes, social media, images that will drive the message home—this is another issue with my blogs that I’ve been struggling with.

Putting all of this together has been a sort of “mock up” for me. Elements of credibility, accessibility, originality, and relatability all need to be a part of my remediation project. So creating a multimodal design to reflect these elements was a potential challenge.   Fortunately, I realized that all of these elements could be combined in a way that’s already familiar to me.   As I pitched in class, I want my project to be a fitness version of “The Lunch Read”.

Creating a news based fitness email will hopefully be attractive to a college level audience. From the sense I get in talking with other students, I think people enjoy getting emails like “The Lunch Read” sent to them, which have articles already there for them, making news-access easier and more time efficient, which is important for a college student with little time on their hands.   People wanting to stay up-to-date on news will get “The Lunch Read”, and people looking for some current fitness news and weekly motivation will [hopefully] be willing to read my project.

I am struggling with how to create a rough cut/storyboard for this project. Something like putting articles together doesn’t really have much of a rough draft component. But one idea is to create a “rough draft” email for one week, and then based on the feedback I get, I could make a different one entirely for the next week and change things based on criticism.

Many of my peers asked if I was going to include my own articles. If they are relevant, then I would love to! Although for the most part I wanted to put in articles from well-respected magazines and newspapers, so fitting a blog post in there might be a challenge.

Also, I need a catchy name. People have mentioned TheSkimm to me, and other things like this all have creative, catchy names. I’m still brainstorming, but suggestions are definitely appreciated!