Challenge Journal #6: Women in “society”

This one carries a little bit of a heavier weight.

This struggle reflects one that I am having as I create a project for another class in which I am currently enrolled. Is that against the rules? Can “prior” assignment be one from last month? Can’t I just vent for a second? Is this going to affect my Comm grade?

In my Upper-Level Writing course for my fabulous major, I’m producing a work about gender barriers broken in the sports world. As I write about the way that the media has covered Becky Hammon—the first female assistant coach to be hired by the NBA—since her hiring in August of 2014, I try to find the best way to talk about her gender as a lens to explain how her hiring has been received and discussed.

 

For example:

While the fact that Hammon was hired at all suggests progress in closing the gender gap in a powerful role in this extremely masculine institution, unsettling responses to her hiring suggest that perhaps we are living in a world where much of the population is not yet ready to see a woman leading what has historically been a man’s game.

 

In both of these projects—one where the feminist implications are more explicit that the other—I’m having a hard time establishing my authority in contributing to the conversation. At what point am I overstating what these practices and reactions mean for women in society? Is the fact that I am using the word “society” at all a red flag?

Challenge Journal #5: Am I offending you?

I think one of my biggest fears about how my project might be received is that the project will actually offend some members of my audience.

One of the greatest components of my English 425 class in the Fall semester was the peer-editing portion. We had to write each other letters after reading each other’s work, and our professor insisted that we learn to frame our negative comments in a positive manner.

 

For example:

You use detail so beautifully in each of your anecdotes. As your reader, I can clearly imagine your young mother on a beautiful sunny day: I can see that emerald sparkle that lights up her shoes in the sunlight and the smile on her face that mirrors that sparkle; I can feel the rural small-town American charm in paragraph seventeen. I wish, however, that you would show us your personal reactions to these things and these moments. There are so many wonderfully developed characters in these stories, and I would love to see you further develop your own character as the protagonist.

 

Now, I am trying to find the best way to frame my more offensive comments—or, rather, the highly offensive practices that I must discuss. As I try to frame my negative comments in a positive (not really positive—it’s all relative) manner, I fear that I am tip-toeing around my own fears in a way that is masking what I am actually trying to say. How do I sugarcoat something that actually loses value upon being sugarcoated?

I guess I just don’t, but my brain is rejecting my own words as I write them down.

Challenge Journal #4: Who’s listening?

I know this isn’t the most original idea for a challenge, but I don’t think that makes it any less important or true or valuable for me to reflect upon. For some, writing about ourselves can be difficult. I constantly write about my life—I actually first fell in love with writing when I discovered the way that writing my thoughts down actually really allowed me to work through internal conflicts and figure out what’s going on inside of my own mind. For that reason, I suppose I have never been part of that “some,” and writing about myself and my life hasn’t been difficult for me.

But that’s because I had only ever done so when I was my one and only audience.

Freshman year, in an introductory sociology course, I found myself, for the first time, writing about people and things I was close to from the perspective of an outsider. I had to use sociological ideas that I had learned in order to conduct an interview with my mother. As I talked to my mother about her parents’ divorce, and I prepared to write about it through this sociological lens, I soon found that I would have to write from the perspective of a student rather than a daughter.

 

For example:

Jodi had a simple upbringing in a home of loving parents and two siblings, but this interview instead focuses on a sociologically dense time later in her life when she was preparing to leave for college as her family fell apart. Jodi shares a captivating story that serves as lens to reveal sociological principles of evolving gender roles and issues of family.

 

As I enter the editing phase of my final project, I am struggling to fix my language to match the different ways that I have been trying to tell my story. As in my sociology project, I am writing about events in my life to an audience that reaches beyond my own brain. Some pages do still sound like diary entries, and others sound like nothing I’ve ever written before. I can’t include too much personal emotion because this is a project that only demands emotion and reflection in some of its parts, but where, in my revelations, do I compromise revealing myself in order to best inform my audience in a way that achieves my project’s goals?

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?

Revisiting Challenge Journals, Part 2/2

*See my previous post on revisiting challenge journals, published here, where I reconsidered the textual basis of my first entry*

 

Challenge 2: How do you handle missed opportunities?

In my second challenge journal entry (read here), I considered the question, “what happens when you are writing about one thing, specifically something assigned by a professor, but then suddenly want to write about another thing?” (of course, the second being related to the original topic, rather than completely out of left field). I wrote about an assignment for my Travel Writing class while enrolled at DIS Copenhagen, where I was instructed to write about setting. Really, just setting.

In fact, here is the prompt, in all of its minimalist glory.

“Paper 2, 3-6 pages from one of your travels this semester. Focal points, Scenes/descriptions.” 

As you can see, the prompt really was right to point. And it’s hard to stray away from a prompt when the prompt itself is less than 15 words. Unfortunately, as you may have guessed, I did eventually find myself wanting to leave the prompt behind and explore a more interesting topic: that of my own loneliness. As I mentioned in my original journal entry, “I couldn’t stop my thoughts from circling another part of my experience–the fact that I was completely alone.”

Below is an excerpt from my essay on “scenes/descriptions” in which I describe my experience while on a run through Holyrood park in Edinburgh, Scotland, moments before a lingering rainstorm. I write about the landscape, the fleeting hikers, and my eventual loneliness.

As I continue walking, my eyes wander from the path before me, to the increasingly grey sky, to the valley below. As I walk, I take note of fleeting hikers in the distance, appearing as colorful dots against the lush, green scenery. I see a tall, lean woman to my right, dressed in a bright, raspberry-red windbreaker, her short mob of greying hair shining bright against the haze dipping low into the valley. She wanders off the path and towards a small stream cutting through the tall, rolling grasses, out of which emerge her two dogs—one golden and one midnight black.

Somewhat stunned by the swiftness of the woman’s quick ascent, my eyes dart back to the stream where the other woman walked with her two dogs, only to find that she, too, has disappeared. Something pulses in my mind, and my thoughts quickly fade from observations of others and draw to those of my own reality. I am alone, once again, in a valley of haze and small, ghost-like figures, walking a path toward the end of a hilltop I only hope will reveal a sense of relief and clarity, and point toward a pathway home.

I would then go on to describe the ascent up the hill only to observe a clear path home, much to my relief. But it was at this point in my essay, specifically the recognition of my own loneliness, that I wanted to leave the prompt behind and explore my own sense of self in this scene. I detailed my thoughts specifically in my initial entry, noting,

I began to think about my reaction to the scenery, and the eventual rainstorm, in the context of my own solitude. Was I scared that I was all alone in the middle of the dramatic highland landscape? Did I stop to really appreciate the scenery, given that a massive rainstorm was about to hit? What would the experience have been like had I been with another person? Was I so scared that my fear somehow evaporated and left me a wandering, soaking wet tourist in the middle of sweeping hills?

The crossroads noted above, that is, the point at which you can continue the prompt or swerve to pursue more meaningful content, is a hard one to confront. It illustrates the lingering internal conflict that questions what value there is in doing something that is less than meaningful, especially when something more meaningful lays within reach. As I concluded in my journal entry, I am glad that this capstone project has allowed time for such crossroads to be considered, and, in my case, acted upon. I have found that my topic has ebbed and flowed as the semester has progressed, resulting in content that carries maximum meaning and expression of my own interests, thoughts, and skills.

Revisiting Challenge Journals, Part 1/2

I wanted to revisit two of my previous journal entries, and comment more specifically on the textual evidence on which each was based. While I referenced specific writing pieces within both journal entry, I neglected to cite specific blocks of texts. After re-visiting those specific writing pieces this week, I believe I can provide further elaboration in my entries with direct quotes of the text!

And with that, let’s go back to my first challenge journal entry…


 

Challenge Journal 1: What is the most productive way to revise?

Do you save the majority of revision for the end of the writing process? Or do you revise as you go?

These were questions I began to consider while in English 325, particularly during the course of workshops. The two weeks of workshops sessions would yield fantastic advice, and provided motivation to make changes more regularly, rather than at the end of the workshop period. As I mentioned in my journal entry (read here), “with each day of helpful workshop insight, there would be one day less to write, revise, and submit my final essay.”

The excerpt below is from my second essay of English 325, in which I wrote about a family tradition of going to my grandparents’ home for the Christmas holiday each year. In the text selections below, I describe the physical setting of my grandparents’ living room, decorated each year in the most enchanting way.

Below is the excerpt, before any revision.

The warm light peeking through the small archway at the back of the room, however, was the greeting my sister and I would anticipate . . . We’d slip by chairs and stumble around counters to sneak toward the archway, stepping through the passage and into the living room. The interior, in our eyes, was pure magic. Full, lush garland trimmed the tops of the walls, wrapping around the room and tucking into the back of the large chest that sat in the corner, adorned with twisting red ribbons and delicate red bows. Light from the television—most likely playing whatever Christmas film was showing on cable—pulsed in the opposite corner, and the small lamps scattered on either side of the couch filling the room with a soft glow. Our eyes floated around the room and finally locked on the Christmas tree in the far corner, admiring how the illuminated branches cast dancing shadows along the wall and up toward the ceiling.

And then came workshop sessions. In reviewing my classmates essays and listening to others’ feedback, I acknowledged the importance of variation of syntax, actionable language, explicit commentary on significance, and more. I decided to apply the tips given to others as I heard them in workshop, rather than waiting until the end, and hoping my memory served me well. The above excerpt went through about 3-4, short, revision “check-in” periods during the course of workshop sessions to reach is final format, which is included below.

The warm light peeking through the small archway toward the back of the kitchen, however, was the greeting Kristen and I anticipated each year . . . We slipped by the chairs and stumbled around the countertop, stepping through the passage and into the living room. Our eyes traced up toward the ceiling, along the walls, and down to the floor, attempting to take everything in.

The interior was enchanting.

Full, lush garland wrapped around the room, trimming the tops of the walls. Small lamps adorned with red bows filled the room with a soft glow. Our eyes danced with the light around the room before locking on the Christmas tree in the far corner, its brightened branches casting shadows that danced on the walls and extended to the ceiling.

It was often my grandma’s work, the interior decoration. I remember coming each Christmas season, anxious to see the house transformed into a beautiful, intimate sanctuary from the cold December air. I would never come to witness my Grandma decorating the house, though the process was never a concern until later. As a child, I was content to imagine the garland and string lights appearing by magic.

The above excerpt, in my opinion, greatly benefitted from the “check-ins,” mentioned in my original journal entry. I was able to more effectively integrate the feedback I heard in workshop, without taking up too much extra time.

 

Challenge 3: How to conclude?

What does it mean to end a piece of writing? How do you find a balance between crafting too neat of an ending and one filled with too many loose ends?

I’ve seen a handful of posts commenting on these very questions. Considering the ways in which my writing style and approach to crafting a narrative has shifted throughout the last four years, my perspective on “writing an ending” has been one of the more noticeable shifts. Specifically, my conclusions have shifted from being succinct statements no longer than a paragraph and tied up with a bow, to more open-ended considerations, putting the preceding content into perspective while still encouraging the reader to consider it further.

I don’t necessarily think one approach is better than the other. In my class, ‘Persuasion & Campaigns,’ for example, I learned that explicit conclusions are generally more persuasive than implicit conclusions. I also know that, if my social science research papers went without a clear conclusion, the world may explode. I do, however, think I have become more open to more interpretive endings with each and every writing assignment. More than just a shift in writing choices, however, this change also indicates a greater, more meaningful shift in my attitude toward writing in general.

For example, here is a look at one of the first papers I wrote for college, written in, no surprise, English 125. In this essay, I argued how my tendency to embrace the imaginative as a child sometimes made me feel out-of-place at school, yet instilled in me the values that I still hold today. Here is how I concluded my paper:

I admit I may have had a harder time grasping the concept of reality than other children at one point in my life. Yet the make-believe I once clung to has instilled in me a hope to make a positive change in the world around me. I realize it is important to be aware of the world in which one lives, but my childhood has taught me that sometimes it is more beneficial to have your head floating up in the clouds.

Comforting? Absolutely. Cliche? You know it.

Thought provoking? Not particularly.

And that brings me to my last paper crafted for English 325, written last semester. I wrote about my own perfectionist tendencies, the transient nature of college life, and the complications it has fostered. The essay was in response to a prompt grappling with the application of theoretical concepts in our daily life. These are my last few sentences:

I doubt that my perfectionist tendencies will disappear with a single revelation and the acknowledgment of transience itself. My college experience, after all, hasn’t seen its final bookend. And just as college is inherently transient, I imagine life won’t be much different. Anxieties, worries, and feelings of despair may never quite disappear completely as long as transience is present. Although these feelings may never cease, to know productivity is happening, even in the absence of perfection, is to realize the meaninglessness of defeat.

And, if fears of defeat no longer resonate, creating an absence of uncertainty and distress at the possibility of failure, then maybe perfection becomes irrelevant altogether.

With this conclusion, I hoped the reader would continue to think about the topic, even after the conclusion. I found that, while any paper can prove resonant for the reader, actively providing such an opportunity may yield a greater likelihood to leave a lasting impression.

As I near the end of my capstone project, I consider what kind of thoughts I want the reader to take with them. I want to clearly and concisely define my argument, while still encouraging the reader to consider how information overload plays a role in their own life, what they may be doing to facilitate the consequences of such overload, and how they can approach information consumption going forward. While this requires a bit of understanding of the issue itself, it also needs a certain determination to re-consider their own media and news consumption habits. Such determination only comes with a carefully-crafted conclusion, leaving the last words resonating in the reader’s mind.

Challenge Journal 4: A Chance to Expand

The Capstone project has been a unique writing experience in the sense that it allows for so much expansion– something I’m not used to as a psychology major, who mostly writes about one specific topic in great depth. Over the course of the semester, I have had to release this mindset, and instead adapt a new one. Instead of writing a chapter of a book, the Capstone project requires us to write the entire book, complete with chapters and images to guide the reader through our thoughts. Looking back on my college career, I am glad that I have had both kinds of opportunities. It is important to be able to dig deep into one specific point and expose every small detail of a case. It is also important to be able to put together a story, or journey for a reader to go on with you as a writer.

That is one thing I have had to adjust to during this Capstone experience. It’s a different way of thinking. Instead of using a microscope, it’s getting in a plane to have a bird’s eye view. One essay I wrote during junior year in English 225 somewhat reminds me of this method of observation and composition. We were assigned to write an open letter– to anyone, about anything. I chose to write to my sister who was a senior in high school with advice on entering college. It didn’t have a specified purpose stated at the top. It was more of an exploration of my feelings about important things to remember during freshman year, and values to keep in mind. I even state that there isn’t a clear cut answer available in the essay:

This isn’t a guide to get you through college without making any mistakes, because making mistakes is part of what makes your college years so memorable.

I structured my thoughts as a list, stating 5 pieces of advice and expanding them into paragraphs. Together, these 5 pieces of advice led the audience (my sister and other incoming freshman) through ways to think about college, rather than an answer on how to succeed– that is too large a question to give a single concrete answer to. Some examples of my “guiding” thoughts as opposed to “solution” thoughts:

Don’t let other people’s ideas about what leads to success and happiness in life affect the choices you make.

You are not the only one who doesn’t know what you are doing.

Smile. A lot.

Similar to the Capstone project, these pieces seem disconnected from each other with close reading. However, together they give the reader a way to approach the idea of freshman year at college. Each page in my Capstone project is a distinct piece of a large idea.

It has felt rather unnatural to so gradually unfold the many layers of the argument I am making. I am so used to laying it all out in a straightforward thesis that encompasses everything I am going to say in a neat and ordered fashion. I have mostly written for audiences that are interested in knowing the conclusion, and the reasons behind that conclusion. However, in my Capstone project, my focus is on gathering different stories– narratives, descriptions, histories and images– in order to make the whole. Rather than having the reader know exactly where I am going to take them, I instead invite them to go on the journey with me.

 

Challenge Journal 4: Wrap it Up

I have always struggled with conclusions. Not in the sense that I struggle to write them, but in the sense that they never actually CONCLUDE everything I said prior. I’ve talked about something similar in challenge journals in the past, but I’m bad at matching my ending words to the main point I’ve been making in all of the writing prior. I think its because usually the idea I have at the beginning of writing is gone by the end. It inspired what I was going to say, but the actual articulation and organization I had planned on ends up getting replaced by a deviant form. It is related, but its conclusions are different and its message is different.

Yet when I’m writing the conclusion, I write it as though I stuck with the original plan and everything panned out as expected. For example in my gateway project I wrote about when I went blind in my right eye in middle school:

When I was in seventh grade, a cascade of complications that began in November 2008 led to me going completely blind in my right eye within the next six months. Over the course of these months of pain and fear, my vision progressed to the point where I could barely see changes in color. I couldn’t go out in sunlight without the sensation of knives being jabbed into my eye. I couldn’t be in a brightly lit room without tears unknowingly streaming down my face and onto my shirt. I couldn’t wear contacts, so I wore glasses with oversized sunglasses on top. But eventually, the medication did the job. By the end of seventh grade I had regained almost all of my eyesight.

I proceeded to talk about how much this experience affected me and my family, particularly my relationship with my mom. We fought a lot as a kid, and I talked about how during this time I took out a lot of my fear and anxiety on her. I misplaced my worries as anger towards her, and it was really straining our relationship.

As I continued writing, I got more and more cheesy as I went along. I started talking about how I used this experience to grow as a person and learn how to be kinder to my mother:

Last year I got caught for sneaking out of the house. My mom was furious. She normally manages to speak kindly to me no matter what, but her words were biting and cold— she could not believe that I broke her trust. And I felt the anger bubbling up like it always does; “You’re way too strict, I’m 18 years old for God’s sake, and I deserve some goddamn freedom!” I wanted to yell these words and more at her. But I paused. It wasn’t that I directly thought about seventh grade and the strain my words to my mother had placed on our relationship. It was far more subconscious than that. I paused, and considered if blowing up at her was worth it. And more than that, I let myself question if she was really to blame. That half-second of contemplation changed the way I responded completely. My tone was soft, and I said clearly and calmly, “Mom, you know how I feel about your rules on curfew. But arguing with you about that is not going to make this better. I should never have broken your trust like that; I know how important it is to you. I’m so sorry. I know that what I did was wrong.”

Originally, I ended it shortly after this with a quick blurb about how I had changed and was a better person now. Reading it back now, I hate it. I don’t like that my default is to come to the quick and easy conclusion, because its not true. Our relationship isn’t 100% perfect and I don’t treat her like gold every time I interact with her. This is something I’m struggling with now in my capstone project, because I’m getting to the point where I need to wrap everything up, and Im trying to steer clear from the conclusion that I would have made at the beginning of all of this. There have been enough direction changes in what I’m talking about that the conclusion needs to reflect those, not what I had thought early on.

In that gateway essay, I ended up adding some paragraphs to steer away from the cheesy ending a bit:

Talking to my mom about this has brought many of the specific memories back to the surface, and I’ve realized that while I do still snap at her too often and talk to her in a tone that should not be directed towards a mother, I am more thoughtful. I realize that she is emotional and sensitive, and although too often I am cold and thoughtless, I sometimes think before I act. Not always. Not every time. But enough that I am confident that the lessons I learned have affected how I respond to challenges and hard times.

It’s the same basic idea, bit it’s quantified. That’s the part I’m trying to keep in mind now for the conclusion of my project. It’s okay to make an argument and conclusion that you know isn’t all encompassing, as long as you articulate that. If you state the limits of the argument you’re making it makes it more believable, even if it is cheesy.

My Gateway in Retrospect

I, like mostly people, have grown to hate their Gateway projects. Specifically, I hate my eportfolio. Not only do I think that it’s boring to look at, but I also see a lack of cohesion between the pages that I didn’t see when I was constructing it.

My Capstone project is a lot different, since we no longer have to house our work on an eportfolio. My sole focus has been on creating my project on my project’s site, and it’s been fairly easy to keep it logically pieced together. By the way I’ve written it, and the explanatory nature of the content, many visually separate chunks of prose seem to be a part of the same train of thought.

But now I have to end it. The problem isn’t so much: what am I going to say in my conclusion? The problem is: how am I going to say it. I know that I want to leave my audience with a takeaway about what they should do now that they’ve gained all of this specific knowledge. However, as I’m attempting to write it, the prose reads in an almost completely different voice than the rest of my project. 

My voice elsewhere is very straight forward and to the point. It’s explanatory and matter-of-fact. But in the conclusion, I, for some reason, sound like I’m writing in a diary.

I decided to go back to my Gateway to see how I ended things there. The issue is that I didn’t end things. I didn’t have any sort of conclusion not only for my eportfolio, but also for the project itself. I used the platform merely as a place to plop my work down and explain it. 

For this project, I decided to focus on one of my favorite books, If on a winter’s night a traveler, by Italo Calvino. I was interested in the genre that it was written in, and I wanted to convince an audience of unfamiliar readers to dive into this somewhat intimidating postmodern work. As a result, I wrote an article analyzing the novel’s success.

For this project, I took the argument in my previous piece, The Case for Calvino, and translated it into a new medium, for the same audience. The medium I chose was Twitter.

Postmodernism can be confusing and dense, and I thought it would be more approachable and disgestable in this short format. Moreover, the discontinuity of Twitter allowed me to experiment with the many different thematic concerns of the genre.

I created a fictional author, Katherine Crosby, and tweeted her postmodern thoughts. I also tweeted pictures and links that Katherine found useful, interesting, and relevant, and I retweeted quotations from well-known postmodern authors that inspired her. Consequently, Katherine’s timeline presents a diverse picture of postmodernism.

This is so BORING and UNHELPFUL. At the time, I didn’t realize that I wasn’t answering the most important question of content creation: what does this matter?

We had to write about the making of the projects, and now I’m wondering, why didn’t I include this material in the introductions and conclusions of my works?

That way, people unfamiliar to the genre could be exposed to it without being too bogged down by some of the more confusing characteristics (like nonlinear plotlines, ect). With only 140 characters, I could show my audience what postmodernism was, without making them work too hard for the understanding.

This reflective work would have framed my projects in a more interesting light.

So now, for my conclusion in Capstone, I’m going to reflect back on the making of my project. What things have I noticed changing about my own habits the more I’ve learned about analytics? What kind of consumer have I become over the course of this project? Which bits of information have informed my perspective the most?

If I answer these questions, my conclusion will hopefully sound less like a diary and more like the rest of my project. Then, as I move towards revealing a truth that I’ve uncovered about my own habits as a consumer, the voice will become more explanatory -this is how it is- and less instructive -this is what you should do.