Connecting the dots: project brainstorming idea 1 (of many)

So I don’t know what I want to do or what is appropriate to do for my Capstone project. I’ve been racking my brain since the first class because I can’t come up with the topic, format, style, etc. But this struggle alone has made me think about a particular topic: distraction.

Last class, Ray asked us to speak about class that has intellectually stimulated us –a class that has transformed us. Listening to everyone’s responses, I couldn’t help but think, “Shit. These all sound like such cool classes! What have I been busy doing for the past four year?” While everyone else was speaking, I was half listening, half trying to remember what classes I’ve taken, what they’ve taught me, and even what they course title was. And then it clicked: I spend most of my time distracted, both in class and out of class. Have I been distracted for the past four years? Are we all distracted and is it inhibiting us from truly learning? Or are these distractions necessary? Is this what college is supposed to be?

Last year, I wrote a paper for my Communications class about how Facebook negatively impacts other people’s happiness. We’re so distracted, not only by the emergence of social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc.), but we’re also distracted by the thoughts that consume our minds because of this new trend. I have such a thirst for knowledge, but I spend my days doing everything but studying. And then I think about the last four years and wonder what I’ve done, what I’ve learned.

Trying to understand all of this, I want to conduct a survey and write a comprehensive analysis of the nature of distraction and how it affects our college experiences. I want to ask students similar questions as the ones Ray asked us in class and try to find a pattern or correlation, and see whether this is a widely accepted idea.

Thoughts?

Short, but sweet for certain

Ahh! I can’t believe the semester is finally over. I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it to this point. After I submit this blog post, I am done with my junior year of college! Thanks to this class I know have tangible piece of evidence from my junior year, my e-portfolio. This portfolio took a lot of energy and work, but it is finally complete! Although it (probably) needs some fine tuning, I am absolutely in love with it! I am in total shock that I was able to produce something like this. Thank you to Shelley’s Writing 220 class for all of your help, guidance, and inspiration. I’m going to miss our Pandora listening classes and mysterious rodent friend. Can’t wait to see all of your projects and can’t wait to reunite!

For now, see you later and enjoy!

Happy Summer,

Sara

Who Am I?

First, a little clarification. The paragraphs that follow this one will eventually make up my final essay for this class—a narrative of my evolution as a writer. For now, they are mere first thoughts on the topic, and therefore may not seem as developed as one (aka me) would hope.

Who am I as a writer?  Woah, what a loaded question (and very existential I might add). First I feel like I have to figure out who I am as a person before I decide who I am as a writer. And I feel like we never stop learning about ourselves, so does that mean that we’re always developing as writer?

This idea takes me back to my first essay for this class (Why I Write). I spoke briefly about how the education system teaches us how to evolve as writers, starting with learning the alphabet. After the alphabet comes stringing sentences together, then answering the five W’s (and one H), and then paragraphs. Quickly following, we learned about structured paragraphs, thesis statements, five paragraph essays, research papers, journalistic pieces, free form writing, and now in the 21st century, alternative and new media writing. In a sense, we’ve always had a structure to our writing.

Even in college, the writing has been structured. We know what professors like what (a one sentence thesis vs. a two sentence thesis) and we know how to play into the grade game (what will get me the best way). In a way, we forget about writing to write, and we write what we know will please our professors. The writing that I’ve done in this class differs than other writing I’ve done in college because it’s not purely academic. It allows for a lot more room for creativity, innovation and independence. I haven’t had to follow a format (i.e. thesis statement, 5 paragraphs, research paper), which allows me to refrain from being tied down to a certain type of essay. In addition, the tone has changed, as I’m allowed to be more open and honest with my writing.

As my writing is shifting, and I’m gaining much more independence, I’m trying to think how this is symbolic in my life. As I’ve aged and gone through the education system, I’ve gained a lot more independence. As I learned more skills, my professors have trusted me to play around with what I have. Even thinking back to English 125, my professor always gave us a clear distinction of what he wanted. Now, my professors purposely don’t tell me, so that we have the ability to produce what we feel is important. This relates to my life because as I progress, I grow more independent. Pretty soon, I will be done with my formal education (for now), and I won’t be tied down to a “system.” Therefore, I will lose all formal structure and have to start again.

It’s kind of a scary thought—having to start all over again. But it really isn’t starting again. It’s taking what we’ve learned and applying it to new experiences. It’s not like we become clean slates. We now have so much more knowledge to add. Kind of scary, but also liberating.

A word on words.

Words.

This weekend I went to the 2014 Tedx Conference, which consisted of people speaking about ideas that “go against the grain.” The day focused on 15 different speakers and their stories about combating a “norm” in society, and ultimately, changing the world. A spoken word performer opened the day by performing a piece on what it entails to be a revolutionary, as well as the difference between ordinary people and revolutionaries. The rest of the day passed quickly with speakers discussing their ideas, experiences, and testimonials of challenging our society. Basically, the day was filled with a lot of words. But ultimately, words about what? And for what purpose?

The last speaker of the day, University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan, ironically (or not so ironically) spoke about words themselves and how they fit into the English language. As a highly esteemed professor and published author, she spoke about the extent to which words can be defined as “real” and who has the authority to dub them as such. It was a perfect way to the end the day; here I was, listening to a day full of inspirational speakers put their ideas into words, and now this woman was speaking about the actual words that makes these speeches possible.

This culmination of the day made me start to think how I use words, as well as the power of words. Frankly, if words didn’t exist, I think we’d all be a bit lost. Not only are we pursuing careers that require us to rely on words (not that every other professional field doesn’t use words), but also I think a lot of us in the Minor use words as a form of therapy.

For me, stringing words together into sentences acts as my crutch through life. I so often turn to writing when my brain is exploding with thoughts. When I’m at a lost for speaking my thoughts, I turn to writing to explore how I feel and maybe even why I feel certain sentiments. Words have been so prevalent in my life, as I love to have conversations with people (both peers and complete strangers), as well as write (in my personal, academic, and professional life). But more recently, I’ve come to understand that the words I’ve learned have been constructed based on the society I grew up in.

When I first learned words (I’m pretty sure my first word was Da-da), I was too young to question the meaning of them. And as I grew up and learned a more developed vocabulary, how to write words, and how to share words, I learned meaning of these words, defined by the dominant narrative in my world. I never questioned the meaning of words, only simply asked what the definitions were. But who was teaching me these definitions? And where were they learning their information from? Who wrote the dictionaries that I turned to, in order to gain knowledge about these words?

Could it be that even something as simple as words were, and continue to be, socially constructed by my environment?

My first thoughts is: No, of course not. I choose what words I use and how to use them, so I must have control over them.

But maybe, I’m being naïve. And most likely, I am. Yes, I can choose what words I use, but I need not ignore the fact that my definitions of the words that I use may be (and probably are) socially constructed based on my different social identities and my background. And now that I am aware of this, I don’t know how to look at words. What is a “real” word and why do we let anyone other than ourselves define that for us.

Why don’t we get to choose what words are or what they mean? Curzan argues that we do have the power to define words as they please. We just need to take control of that understanding and realize that the English language is constantly evolving, and we do have the power to define words as “real.” I use words for me, so don’t I get to be the judge?

Re-mediation nation

My re-purposing project is structured as a Everyday Feminism blog post, which is a web blog that strives to incorporate content that creates an inclusive environment and treats every reader with respect. I wanted to use this platform for my re-purposing project because my piece is about identity—who constructs it, how we identify ourselves, and the extent to which we let others choose our identity for us. The idea behind the piece is how my red hair has shaped my identity, and the realizations I have come to, based on this blatant attribute, the experiences I’ve had, and speculations about how my realizations are rooted in societal socialization. The piece is written as a blog post, mimicking the style and language used by the writers of Everyday Feminism. The target audience is the type of people that read blogs like Everyday Feminism—social just, open minded individuals, hoping that they will share this article with others who are not as informed. The target is also people (especially younger girls) struggling with identity and finding themselves.

For my re-mediation project, I want to turn my blog post into either a TED talk or a podcast (PSA) that can be listened to, in order to garner inspiration and motivate people to question their identity, as well as the correlation between identity and society. Giving physical voice to the piece will bring it to life, beyond the pages of the web. It will be a 2-5 minute talk. I am veering toward a TED talk because TED is about “spreading ideas worth sharing.” Because my mostly narrative piece has a universal theme/take-away, I feel like it will fit well within the TED’s mission. The goal is to have people walk away with a tangible concept that they can apply to their lives. This medium will be appropriate for my audience because the type of people that read blogs like Everyday Feminism also watch TED talks. TED talks are pretty universal, but a good majority of people who watch TED talks happen to fall into the criteria of my audience—people, like me, who are looking for a little inspiration.

Let’s hope it actually works out!

“Writing in the margins…a passion to communicate”

So I just listened to the podcast of Sweetland’s Writer to Writer session, and I have to say, I’m so bummed I didn’t get to go to live event! It seemed like there was so much energy in the room, so kudos to anyone who contributed to it. Maria Cotera seems like a really amazing person and professor—her voice came off as calm, yet powerful in a way. I could almost feel her passion and commitment to her work through the recording (as weird as that sounds).

Before I started to listen to the podcast, I didn’t really know what Maria was going to speak about. I knew the purpose of the session, but I didn’t know any specifics. So when she started talking, I was so shocked that her story was so relatable. She starts the conversation by speaking about her mother, and thus her exposure to writing through he mom’s social action and plea for justice. As she was speaking about her mom, I started to think about who my writing guru was—the person that inspired me to start writing. Maria’s story sounded so familiar to me, because that’s really how I got into writing (and I didn’t even realize it until after she mentioned her story). It hit me; Maria’s relationship with her mom reminds me a lot of my relationship with my dad. I guess more specifically, Maria’s mom reminds me a lot of my dad.

I should give a little background first: I am the youngest of five redheads who grew up in a house that strived on organized chaos. We were all the products of two passionate, energetic, silly, and loving parents who strived (and still strive) to make the world a better place. I didn’t grow up like the other kids in my neighborhood. Instead of family meals (which rarely occurred because everyone had such crazy schedules), family time consisted of stuffing envelopes for various philanthropic causes (which include, but are not limited to, foster care reform, LGBQT issues, or donating money to help refugees in Israel) every Sunday evening around the dining room table. The envelopes consisted of eloquent and powerful writing that was supposed to motivate recipients into action. Essentially, my dad would spam his contact list and use as a human assembly line. But somehow, I didn’t see to mind this tradition. My dad’s passion was contagious, and as I grew up, I started to realize that he was using his writing to make the world a better place. I was inspired and motivated to do the same.

In high school, I joined our nationally ranked newspaper, The Lightning Strike, and quickly worked my way up to Editorial Editor. As the head of the Editorial section, I was in charge of layout and design of the pages, oversaw all of the content being written, and wrote the unsigned editorial, on behalf of our the staff. My pieces were unconventional, as I geared toward topics like human rights, the importance of voting, community action, and social justice. I hoped to use my writing to motivate readers into action, and thus developed a passion for writing about social change. Like Maria, I wanted to give a voice to the voiceless.

However, Maria and I differ in the definition of “the voiceless.” During the podcast, Maria spoke about “writing as a communicative art; avenues for telling stories that haven’t been told. [She has] an impulse to tell stories about the people have been ignored because time has passed.” However, Maria argues that she only gives a voice to people who are dead, because it’s impossible for them to speak up. But she won’t speak for those who are alive because “everyone has the power to speak for him or herself.” Frankly, I don’t agree with that. To me, speaking out seems to be a privilege—one that not everyone has access to. My father and I do a lot of work with children in Foster Care for this reason alone. People who do not have support systems, who are emotionally, physically, or sexually abused, who don’t have the proper outlet, who are silenced by authority or the system at large. All of these people are very much alive and don’t have the power to say anything, for the consequence is way too risky. These people are living examples of “the voiceless” and their stories desire to be heard and spread, so the world can do something about it.

Therefore, I use my power of words for those who are not granted that privilege. In essence, that’s why I write.

And that’s also why I wish I were at the live recording of this event—so I could bring this up and ask Maria her opinion. In the meantime, I’m curious to hear everyone else’s thoughts, so feel free to comment below! If you (like me) missed the show, here’s a link to the recording. Enjoy!

A One-Woman Interview: A Guide to my Eportfolio (for now)

In order to tackle this blog post, I decided to answer these Eportfolio prompt questions in chronological order (kind of like an interview with myself). That way I don’t miss any question, while I selfishly get to work through my thought process and understanding of what is being asked of us. So let’s get started, shall we?

How do you want to present yourself as a writer?    

Uhh…just kidding. But this is definitely a though-provoking question.  I guess I want people to get a sense of who I am as a writer on my Eportfolio. So, if someone were to look at the website or read one of my pieces, they could hear my voice or grasp an idea about who I am as a person. Isn’t that the point of writing—to use your voice to convey a message? I want my Eportfolio to be honest and raw, but also playful, energetic, (and sometimes snarky) because that’s who I am as a writer.

Who is your ideal audience?                                                                                          

Ideally, I would like my audience to be anyone who can relate. Although I know in reality, the only foot traffic I’ll get will be from my mom, it would be nice if my Eportfolio attracted people my age (20s) who are interested in self-exploration and inquiry, as well as human connection, so they could read the content and relate on some level.

I also (selfishly) want my audience to consist of my future employers. Because I’m applying for internships and will soon be applying for jobs in the communications industry, I want to give my employers something tangible that they can use as a resource for samples of my writing, or anything else I decide to put up.

What are some ways your portfolio can be distinctive, both in terms of how it presents you as a writer and in terms of the media and design you employ  

Well, I think all of our Eportfolios will stand out in different ways, because we are all different people and therefore have different thoughts and opinions. I want my writing to be strong and compelling. I want to add productive content, meaning content that will move people or help a conversation progress. I want the content to be thought provoking, but also provide people with entertainment. I really would like for people to read something and go, “Woah, that’s exactly how I feel!” and then start a conversation about it. I want my writing to come from a place of passion and exude excitement and energy. That’s how I want it to stand out.

In terms of media and design, I want to keep things really simple. Personally (in some cases), I think: less is more. But I also want to use vibrant warm colors that draw people in. I will use the Free People blog as inspiration. I would like to include some sort of media element, but I’m not really good at that kind of stuff. So I guess, stay tuned for that answer?

What reading experience do you want your audience to have?

Advancements in the Internet are made every day to make the user experience easier and more convenient. As a result, I want to make my users’ experience easier and convenient for them, so they come back for more. Therefore, I want the site to be simple to navigate, with a neat and clean layout.

As for the content, I think I’m going to use pieces of writing that are both well written and contain important, thought provoking reactions. Again, I want to be able to use this Eportfolio as a conversation starter for people. I also think it will be useful to include a blog-type page within the portfolio, and outside references that I find interesting and productive (i.e. other articles or postings I find on the Internet).

How interactive do you want your portfolio to be, and to what end?            

Very! I think that’s the best part about new media. We get to talk to each other instantly and react to what we read or see. I want my audience to engage with me (because I love meeting new people), and I also want my audience to engage with each other (because I love when other people meet new people and I think if they’re all reading my Eportfolio, they must have something in common)! Therefore, I’m definitely going to add a comment app so that I can receive feedback and interact with my readers. Even though this can be dangerous because I’m not good with negative feedback, I think this can only be productive! Give the people what they want, right?

I would LOVE to add a Web 2.0 element, whether that means a Twitter feed or blog to my Eportfolio. As stated in the previous question, I think I’m going to dedicate one page to a blog, which will incorporate most of the Web 2.0 elements.

Do you want your portfolio to be organized around a guiding theme or metaphor or thesis?  Do you want subthemes or subsections?  How explicit do you want the theme or metaphor or thesis to be?  Why?                                    

Yes! But that’s not to say that my theme can’t be: in the head of Sara Berlin, ft. random thoughts and tidbits of information. So in essence, it’s scattered thoughts within a defined theme.

Okay, so maybe that won’t work. But in all seriousness, I want my theme to be self-exploration and growth, which will definitely include thoughts and inquiry about the world we live in and how we fit in. It will also cover the question of how we as individuals are part of something much bigger than us.

I’m going to go with I want to be as explicit as possible, because I like to put it all out on the table. That’s just my personality, but if people interpret the content in different ways than intended, that’s awesome, too!

What media do you want to include in your portfolio, and why?                        

As stated in a previous, I do want to include media, but I don’t know what role I want it to play. Relevant videos would be awesome, and I could definitely add songs that motivate me or make me happy. But then I think there’s a pressure to keep up with the latest trends in music, so you seem like you know what you’re talking about. That seems like a lot of pressure. Images are going to be useful, because they break up text well. I guess it will just kind of depend on each individual page.

 

Overall, I think I have a theme (which would be self-exploration, the desire to understand who we are and how we fit into this world—something so much greater than all of us as individuals), but I’m nervous that I won’t have relevant useful content. I really don’t want people to read the content and say “so what?” I had a blog two summers ago and I struggled with creating useful content. I think I really have to hone in on my audience and be clear with my goals for this Eportfolio. I keep wanting to ask myself, if I was the audience, what would I want to see on this website?

Eek. This is scary!

The purpose of my Re-Purpose

Although this project seemed a little daunting at first, with thoughts like “Oh gosh, now I have to re-visit papers that I’ve put so far in the back of my brain,” talking to my peers about my re-purposing project made me really exciting to get started. Originally, I had two papers I wanted to work with: either an essay about my identity as a redhead or my application for the Semester in Detroit Study Abroad Program through the University of Michigan. I could use my idea of re-purposing into a PSA or newspaper article for both of my options. I decided to go with the redhead essay because: a) my peers seemed more excited about it, b) my peers thought that I spoke about it more enthusiastically than the application, and c) I had more content to work with.

I explained to them that the original goal of my redhead essay was for the piece to be whimsical and frivolous. It was for my English 325 class: the Art of the Personal Narrative. What started as an essay that was supposed to mock my identity as a redhead turned into a thirteen-page testimonial about the meaning of identity and ultimately, the people who control how we choose to identify ourselves. The essay has four different stories of when my redhead came into play, and included dialogue and detail. It’s set up chronologically, so the reader can follow my life. Embedded within the stories is reflection and meaning about the different aspects of identity and how this specific identity really affected my upbringing. The end result of the piece was a complete 180 from what I had originally intended (which is okay because I still like the way it turned out). Instead of taking a silly tone, it comes off as quite serious and thought provoking, with fewer moments of humor than anticipated.

Keeping all of this information in mind, I want to re-purpose my English essay back to its original intent—frivolous and witty. In order to do this, it will have to go through a few steps. First, for my re-purposing, I want to make it into a Features article for a magazine that targets young girls starting to question their own identity. Ideally, it would either be featured in Seventeen or Teen Vogue, appealing to a younger generation of girls, and serving as universal piece based on personal narrative. Whereas my former audience was my professor, my new audience would be these girls (in their tweens or teens, really starting to focus and develop as individuals). My previous genre would have been an essay for a class, and my new genre is a journalistic piece. However, my argument will remain the same: an empowering, yet stylistic and fun exploration of identity.

Hopefully this re-purposing will lead to my re-mediation, which will be a Buzzfeed “Community Post” where I poke fun at my identity as a redhead, as well as myself as an individual. I will use the same format as Buzzfeed uses (and hopefully make it go live on the website) and the argument will be the same. The audience will also be the same, but the genre/form will change.

I’m looking forward to this process and hope you enjoy the end product as much as I know I will! In the meantime, enjoy this image…

Screen shot 2014-02-17 at 8.37.17 PM

Writer vs. Reader: Round 1… fight!

Last week, we read Teirny and Pearson’s article, “Toward a Composing Model of Reading,” which emphasized the idea that there is a symbiotic relationship between reading and writing as composition in a piece of work. The article further reflects the idea that reading and writing use each other to construct meaning through a five-step process. Although this article was pretty straight forward, I started to think about my own writing and how it impacts my readers, as well as myself. In my “Why I Write” essay, I write “But most of the time I’m not thinking of other people when I write. Although I write stories to entertain people and write to spread meaningful messages, I write [most of the time] for selfish reasons.” As I read Teirny and Pearson, I started to reconsider these lines and wonder if I’ve ever considered the reader when writing an essay. Of course I have, right? With any academic paper, I am forced to choose an audience (usually my professor) and consider that audience when stringing my sentences together. In journalistic writing, I’m supposed to do that too–find an audience, and cater to them. But in personal writing, aren’t I the audience? If I’m writing in a journal, [i hope] I’m the only one that’s going to see it. So does that mean that I’m the writer and the reader? A piece of [good] writing should enact some sort of change in mind from both the writer and the reader. As the reader goes on a journey through a piece of reading, so does a writer, and vice versa. Maybe this means making more of a conscious effort to find a balance between thinking as a reader and thinking as a writer when I write stories or essay.

I would consider myself a better writer than reader. In fact, I can’t even call myself a critical reader. I often start books and rarely finish them, even if I’m intrigued by the plotline. I don’t mean to fall into this habit; it kind of just happens. Honestly, I find this a bit ironic and hypocritical because scholars always say, “In order to become a better writer, you have to become a better reader” (or at least that’s what I think they say). Haas and Flower’s “Rhetorical Reading Strategies and the Construction of Meaning” really speaks to this idea by noting how easy it is to read a piece of writing, without actually grasping the words or meaning. However, there is always a deeper meaning present that we just seem to miss. I can totally relate to this because I so often find myself reading words on a page, but simultaneously thinking about a million other things, such as my plans for the day, what I’m going to eat for my next meal, or what I have to do when I finish this reading. It takes me double the time to read something for class than the average person because I really need to concentrate on the words.

At one point last semester, my English teacher asked me how I liked to read. I responded, “I can only read when it’s completely silent, with a slight whisper. I like to read out loud, it’s the only way I can really understand the words.” My professor then replied, “Wow, so you must be a really slow reader, right?” Although I’m not proud of this confession, it is the stark truth. And as a result, I refrain from reading (which I understand is always really ironic, as the only way to get better is by practicing.) When reading from now on, I should really consider Haas and Flower’s idea about constructing meaning as a reader because as a writer, that’s what I hope my audience does.

Every year, my New Years resolution is to read more. Seeing how it’s only February, let’s see if I can finally make my promise come true.

 

Things to consider: Twitter

Because I had too much work to watch the State of the Union (I know, shame on me), I decided to read up on the main points in the New York Times the next morning. As I was about to close the paper, my eyes glanced over this article. In light of our “Why I Write” assignment (which I decided to write as a series of tweets), I thought this article was quite fitting. It spoke about how politicians (both Republicans and Democrats) were tweeting about the State of the Union, using hashtags like #SOTU and #SOTUinThreeWords. Because I use Twitter as a way to interact with my friends and engage socially, I thought it was absolutely wild that the social media platform was being used in this manner. Not only did I find it incredibly inappropriate, but some politicians were using it to make passive aggressive comments about what the President was saying. I don’t know if I’m being naive and this is what our world has turned to, but my question is: do you think it was appropriate of politicians to use Twitter in this manner and do you think that this is the direction our administration (and country) is heading?

Read the article (it’s pretty short) and let me know what you think! Would love to hear your comments/thoughts.