Draft Development: Expanding Definitions

As we draw nearer to the end of the semester, and simultaneously graduation, the deadlines pile up as the weather (hopefully) gets warmer. This is crunch time for our Capstone projects, and it can be easy to lose sight of your vision amongst the the ever increasing stimuli being thrown at us as life accelerates our way.

All of that introduction was to say that we were given an assignment to reinforce our current drafts, under a tab titled “Draft Development.” Since I have been having a difficult time with the scope of my project (a comedic video series about the problems with a liberal arts education and the University of Michigan in general), I chose the mini assignment titled “Expanding definitions.”

This prompt challenged us to take a key term from our project and write 500 words that elaborated on the specific concepts we wanted to address. I started with my base words: “liberal arts education.” I wanted to look at how I was defining it, how others used it, and what were the holes in it that I was trying to address.

The American Association of Colleges and Universities defines it as such: Liberal Arts Education is an approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. It provides students with broad knowledge of the wider world (e.g. science, culture, and society) as well as in-depth study in a specific area of interest. A liberal education helps students develop a sense of social responsibility, as well as strong and transferable intellectual and practical skills such as communication, analytical and problem-solving skills, and a demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings.

I want to address how this functions in a capitalist society, and how students pay the colleges money for an education, but additionally, to be prepared for the workforce, and the ways a liberal arts education might fail in the latter.

And while I find merit in all of those things, I want to discuss the implications of how this definition has been applied at the University of Michigan. For example, a main problem I have with LSA degree requirements is the language requirement. I was required to take 4 classes of a foreign language, perhaps giving me a broader knowledge of the wider world, but I could have used this for more production classes in my Screen Arts class, which benefits me more for a future position in the entertainment industry than a foreign language could.

By positioning the ideals of a liberal arts education, which are essentially universally good, against the cost of college and its function as a minor leagues for the workforce, I can examine the ways a liberal arts education and the college setting is either beneficial or detrimental (economically, even physically or emotionally) to a person’s ability to progress into the job market and adulthood.

Discovering Complications Late in the Game

I’ve done a lot of thinking about different aspects of my final projects. This project has many different sides—a serious side, a helpful side, and an overall informative side. But aside from all of the structural and useful elements of the project in and of itself, it embodies a particular humorous side.

Thinking about a food blog, humor may not be the first word that comes to mind. Typically something more along the lines of baking, recipes, or even shopping are bound to flood your mind first. But my blog is particularly aimed at college students attempting to cook for themselves. While this itself could be quite comical, there’s a funnier part: I don’t actually know much about cooking.

I wouldn’t say that I’m a total newbie. I do love food, I do love making new things, and I enjoy spending time in the kitchen and putting it all together. But have I ever actually looked up new recipes to make them myself? Not much. And do I tend to stray away from foods I already know that I like, in an attempt to try something new? Rarely. And so, thinking about the idea of myself actually making this food blog is a bit humorous and absurd. I’m not nearly a professional chef—although I do sometimes image what I would put on my own restaurant menu, and that consists of about five dishes I know how to make well. I also don’t exactly have the college-student funds to buy a plethora of new ingredients to mix them together. And I don’t even have a car at school to get these ingredients—more humor.

But this underlying humorous aspect is what actually creates a purpose for my blog. When beginning this assignment, I was nervous that I didn’t have a particular message to go along with this project. What’s so different about a cooking blog? I’ll admit I still struggled with the purpose well into beginning the project. But as I continue on—and even throughout this mini assignment where I in fact discover the complications within my project as a whole—I definitely have targeted its purpose. The point of the blog is to juxtapose previous cooking ideals. We’re college students, and often we have much more on our mind than simply what we’re going to cook that day. We have tests, papers, meetings, and a range of activities that add to the time constraints of both preparing and eating meals. So this blog is funny—it goes against the ideologies of cooking, and adapts it to a fast paced, confusing, and overall disorganized college lifestyle. Whether you’re looking at where to run into the hottest shoppers, order in late night food from, or simply what to make for dinner with the few ingredients you have, this blog is simply for that.

It’s funny, it’s disorganized, but it’s reflective of the lifestyles we live. So in reality, if I knew much about cooking in the first place, I’d be a hypocrite to the blog.

 

giphy

Annotating with Attitude

I was feeling pretty stuck on my evolution essay. It was really evolving the way I was intending. At least not evolving very quickly. So I decided to succumb to Shelley’s suggestion of annotating my own rough draft.

To be honest, I was pretty skeptical going into it. I didn’t really understand the concept at first. I thought it meant creating an annotated bibliography precis of my piece that I was working on. When I did understand that it meant going though and electronically commenting on your own piece, I thought it sounded like unnecessary busy work that wouldn’t get me any closer to a completed essay. I thought I can totally just think those thoughts in my head, why go through and actually type them out that’s pointless.  (Sorry Shelley! Sometimes I have a bad attitude).

I started annotating reluctantly, like a pre-teen setting out to clean your bedroom after your mom asked them to, thinking in your head this is so stupid.

giphy
Me when I started annotating

But, also similar to a pre-teen who has just finished cleaning your room after your mom asked you to, I realized that it wasn’t really that bad, or that hard, and was actually quiet helpful.

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 1.56.19 PM
Screen shot of me annotating my own piece

As I started to annotate my own draft, I was able to look upon my essay like a third party. I was detached from the idea that I was writing this paper. Instead, I was critiquing this paper. This gave me a mindset which allowed me to really pick apart what was working, what wasn’t, and where I needed to add/subtract words. Doing this exercise actually gave me a direction- it showed me specific places where I can work on my evolution essay to improve it.

I guess I should have known to trust Shelley’s advice. After all, being in both her Gateway and Capstone, she does feel a bit like my writing mom.

“Dixie Zen” Article Discussion

This article by Sam Anderson is an exercise in vivid descriptions. His opening line is evocative: “People often compare the summer heat of Louisiana to being locked in a sauna for three months.” With just a few words, Anderson has set a tone for the rest of the work.

I think this piece is important for people wanting to write personal narratives or long-form stories. There has to be such an absolute commitment to the subject, to find stories and moments that will capture a reader.

Additionally, this work is a piece of differentiation. What makes tubing in Louisiana a quasi-religious experience that simply cannot be replicated by the rest of the country is deftly explored by Anderson: “In Oregon or Nebraska, tubing is just an incidentally wet version of a stroll in the woods, the spiritual equivalent of a hundred other outdoor leisure activities. In the South, it represents one of the only possible escapes from a greenhouse climate threatening to replace human life with ferns. Southerners are forced to tube.”

With these points in mind, here are some discussion starters and questions.

  1. Find your favorite line of description in the work. Why does it speak to you?
  2. Were there any moments were you thought a detail was extraneous? Were there moments where the detail at first seemed unnecessary, but you appreciated as you read further?
  3. When were you first hooked on the story? Did it not hook you? Why or why not?
  4. Do you have an activity that inspires the same feeling in you that tubing does it Anderson? Take a moment to write it down.

Literati Event with Robin Queen

I must say, I was incredibly surprised by Robin’s interview at Literati. When I think of a linguist, I generally think of someone who is interested in how language works and how it has evolved; however, this wasn’t an exclusive interest of Robin’s – in fact, she seemed to almost favor creative works in writing her books. Admittedly, I have long held the view that academic work (such as linguistics in this case) are quite different than anything made for mainstream consumption. Somehow Robin has struck a balance between the two and I found this to be really interesting.

Robin also mentioned that in her writing, she often views it as an interaction with others. I have often heard that writing should be viewed as a conversation between the author and the reader, and this sentiment was echoed in the interview. But Robin put a spin on this that I had never really heard before: while writing is obviously meant to be read, Robin stated that she writes with the intention of having it be read aloud. This means that the way words sound, the way they interact, and the flow between words are all taken into account in her writing (I guess a lot of this makes sense, given her linguistic background). I think that all writers do this to some extent, in that words and flow are important – but never have I sat down and thought, “What would this sound like if I wanted it to be read aloud? And how would that change my writing process leading up to a finished product?”

To be completely honest, I’m not even sure how I would go about writing something that was strictly meant to be read aloud. Nor am I sure of how my message or argument would sound. Would I have to write the piece more like a speech? Or perhaps maybe a transcription? Or would I just have to write it like a normal paper and hope that it sounded the same read out loud? This would certainly yield some interesting literary conventions, as you would also have to juggle the sound structure of words in addition to the other rhetorical techniques that accompany writing.

Additionally, Robin mentioned that she will sometimes handwrite a lot of her work. This got me thinking: when’s the last time I handwrote a paper? And similarly to writing with the intention of having it read out loud, how would this change my argument and prose? While it may seem like a relatively insignificant change of pace, I think there are some interesting consequences that could arise from writing with pen and paper. Perhaps this would manifest in more “stream of consciousness” writing, or perhaps maybe in more deliberate works (who wants to drag out pages and pages worth of handwriting when you can more efficiently type the same thing?), but at any rate, these all might be fun conventions to try in future writing.

The Tension of Flying

Back in the day, my high school English teacher used to describe graduation as jumping off a cliff. “You’re either going to have a cushion you’ve built up for yourself, or you’re going to have a rough landing!” she’d always conclude dramatically.

I never gave much thought to the metaphor then, probably because I could very clearly see the giant mass of pillows I’d made for myself at the bottom of my cliff. This time around, it feels foggier.

With graduation a month a way, it feels like I’ve hurtled myself confidently into the abyss and am falling with style through the clouds. I know I’ve done at least a decent enough job of preparing myself for “the real world” during the last four years, but I still don’t know where I’m landing. It’s the strangest tension of being both cheerful – things are going to be great! – and entirely clueless to what I’m actually going to find when I hit the ground. By some miracle I’m not anxious (yet?), but feel almost illogically naïve and hopeful. Like, because nearly everyone I know and their mother feels stressed about graduation, so should I.

If nothing else, I feel at least somewhat confident that my capstone project isn’t an anchor around my ankle speeding my descent to the ground. It might be, like, a bag of sand, but definitely not an anchor. There’s hope.

Does anyone feel this strange tension of optimism and inconclusiveness, or is it just me? Or the pressure to feel more stressed, exhausted, or worried about something than you actually do, whether related to graduation or otherwise? (Alternatively, feel free to just use the comments as a venting space.)

Only one month to go…

?

!!

 

“What I Learned 3D Printing My Own BB-8” Discussion

I wrote the following passage near the beginning of the semester and I’m pleased at how relevant the content remains (though my excitement over The Force Awakens has waned heavily)…

Having seen the new Star Wars movie twice since its release, I cannot help but be drawn to all things Star Wars. Prior to this film, I had never been a particularly big fan. I grew up with the subpar prequels and I always thought the original trilogy was good, but had aspirations beyond the technology of the time. The Force Awakens was a grand slam.

Back to the article … It’s very image-heavy, which is atypical of all of the writing I’ve done far, but with a recently discovered interest in photography, may very well be my go-to for writing in the future. There’s something very inspiring about reading/viewing this sort of piece. For one, it reads much more quickly than a text-heavy piece. I mean, for all intents and purposes, it’s a picture book for adults. Also, because it reads quickly, I felt as though I had accomplished much more than if I read an all-text piece in the same time.

The art of writing such an article comes not from creating images with words, but organizing real images in a meaningful way. Now, for a how-to, such as this one, the organization is relatively intuitive: you start with a bunch of pieces and progressively they come together to make a single, coherent thing. Organizing an image-heavy piece that tells a less structurally-conventional story becomes more interesting. For example, in making a profile within this medium, one would want to organize images based on the progression of the subject, which would not be as linear as building a model droid. The selection of a particular image depends heavily on the intended emotional response in the reader/viewer.

This particular article is interesting to me because Star Wars. But alternate applications of this medium could yield a universe of different pieces. In moving away from the typical, text-heavy essay, it is important to consider alternate media such as this.

Thought questions for discussion:

  • When you clicked on the link, what was the first thing that you did? Did you immediately start reading the text or did you skip right to the images?
  • How do you feel about the interplay between text and images? Does one work better than the other in this example? Is there too much of one and not enough of the other?
  • Overall, do you feel like an image-heavy article is more accessible or enjoyable or not?
  • Pick an example of metacommentary used in the text. What effect does this line have on the tone of the piece.
  • Consider the use of multimedia in your capstone project, evolution essay, and/or ePort. Does seeing this article change your thoughts on incorporating multimedia? How so?

Robin Queen Event

Yesterday I attended the Writer to Writer event featuring Robin Queen. Going into the event, I wasn’t expecting to have so much in common with a woman who has written an entire book. I wrote her off in my head (pun intended) as an academic and therefor someone who I would not identify with in any way, shape, or form. Her advise about writing would not relate to the type of writing I do or will be doing in the future. She would just be different.

I was wrong. I was so pleasantly surprised at how many times I found myself saying “omg SAME” in my head.

The time this happened was early on in the event. When discussing her early years as a writer, she said one thing she found out early in her writing career was that it “usually looked more brilliant in my head than it did on paper”. That is when I began to engage more closely. I was hooked. I struggle with this often so it was great to hear that even successful professional writers experience this too. I often some great ideas that truly excite me, but then on paper those ideas fall flat. Everything thing changes once you try to piece things together on a page. That is where the brilliance can often become more mundane. It takes working through it many times to get it how you imagined in your head.

That leads me into the second thing she said that resonated with me. The interviewer asked Robin what her favorite thing to is to write, and she replied “a piece that is finished”. Of course, she laughed it of as a joke and gave another answer but her original answer was spot on. Honestly, I feel like I am so focused on making deadlines and just getting things done. It’s not healthy for my writing. I should be writing to write, not to be finished. It will be really interesting to see how my writing changes when I am no longer in school!

Lastly, another piece of advice she gave that I think is really valuable was that being frustrated is not going to you get your writing done. Her struggles with distractions and focus were spot on and very relatable. She noted that you have to control your emotions. I felt this was particularly important for me to keep in mind with my project right now. When I am frustrated I usually just shy away from it, and that isn’t helping the situation at all. I need to stay focused and positive to work through frustrations I may have. The final push is upon us all!

“How I Became a Famous Writer” Discussion

http://www.oxfordamerican.org/item/373-how-i-became-a-famous-writer

This article, which I will be discussing with the class, is one of those pieces that I know I was meant to find. In the beginning of the year we were asked to search around for different literary publications and see which ones interested us most. I found this title on Oxford American and aimlessly clicked. From the very title, “How I became a Famous Writer,” I knew this essay would have a few curve balls.

I found a lot of my own style in this article, which helped remind me of the kind of tone I want to take in my evolution essay. The semi self-deprecating humor to serve a larger and satyrical purpose is very familiar to me, and it kept me engaged and chuckling with each line. The advice answered “obvious” questions in a round about way, and it was encouraging to hear again, though I’ve heard it much before; The path is not obvious. There is no set path to being an artist, there is only the luck you find, the timing you cannot control, and what is inside of you.

My favorite passage is this:

“We become who we become for reasons we cannot always know—because of what we saw our mothers love, or our fathers hate, and because of what we need deep down inside the parts of us that others don’t know about, such as love, or security, or adoration. For me, what I needed was the freedom to drink before noon and work in my underwear. And I needed a human being who would allow me to work in my underwear, and that human is my wife.”

I spend so much time dwelling on how I am going to get to my dreams, and how impossible those dreams are, and how slim those chances are, and though I know things “fall into place,” it is terrifying to live with such uncertainty. But I love it. I don’t love it because I love being anxious about how I’m going to make a dollar in the “real world” or if anything I EVER do will amount to anything or if I’m this enough or that enough for a casting agent or director to choose me, but I love it. The it is the thing that is inside of me that keeps me going, that part of me that others don’t know about. Heck, I probably don’t know it either. But reading this essay was a great confirmation that it’s all shit, and it’s great. I know following my heart and doing what I love will bring me to where I need to be, and I guess on the way to that I’ll learn to be a better artist and person.

And looking at where I am right now even, I don’t feel so far off.

 

 

Robin Queen and Finding Flow

What I found most inspiring from Shelley’s interview of Robin Queen was Robin’s discussion of her writing process. Robin made very clear that, for her, the most important barrier to get past is actually putting words on the page. That’s not to say she has no other prerequisites for writing. She mentioned that she does need to be–physically–in a certain place, i.e., not her office on campus, and that she prefers there be no sound, i.e., no pets around. However, the most crucial ritual for Robin is putting words to screen, even if the product, in its current state, is as she says “word salad.”

As a young, unpublished, relatively inexperienced writer, the above statement is very inspiring, especially coming from a writer who is both experienced and published. Coming into this talk, I expected to hear a lot of technical jargon about the writing process. I expected to hear about a thorough checklist for approaching any important writing. Instead, the advice that’s been instilled with me from Robin’s talk is simplistic and very human, but nonetheless, crucial: when writing, one needs to find flow. In other words, one needs to cut off from all distractions and simply let his or her thoughts pour out onto the page in a messy, beautiful quagmire.

I find it very discouraging when I stare at a blank screen trying to craft the perfect opening sentence and I just can’t find it; I keep typing then erasing single words at a time in hopes of finding the perfect syntax and diction on my first draft. What ends up happening is that I spend an hour working on one perfect sentence and, of course, I’m exhausted by that point. I don’t want to write anymore, but all I have is one line to show for my suffering. This leads to frustration and, eventually, I give up. In that same hour I spent toiling with a single sentence, I could have spilled out a few full pages of (albeit, rough) text, which I could later edit into something clear and meaningful. This latter, “word salad”/flow, drafting technique is really the only way an author could write an entire novel, but I think it is also important for writing shorter pieces (as I am akin to).

Robin mentioned an app she uses called “Write or Die.” This program uses negative reinforcement (in the form of an awful sound or by erasing what you’ve already written) to ensure that you keep writing–or at least don’t stop writing for more than 20 seconds. Though her mention of this app was quite anecdotal, I actually went right home and looked up the program before I forgot its name. Now, I have yet to try it out, but I am confident, the next time I’m approaching a new, lengthy writing endeavor, this app will do me some good.

The next time I write, I will search for flow and await the wonderful word salad it creates because, ultimately, this is the only way to flesh out who I really am and what I deeply feel.