the…end?

^How I feel heading into finals season as a arts/social science major with a ton of final essays to submit.

This semester in the MiW Gateway has been one heck of a ride. I came in thinking one thing about writing, and kind of had that all turned on its head, for better or for worse! I loved the Gateway process and the emphasis on learning through the lens of genres and their conventions, affordances and limitations. It makes me so conscious of how texts operate in everyday life and how we partake of that as writers.

Some major takeaways from this semester:

  1. My belief that you could write from start to finish was crushed to pieces. I learnt many things about the implications of genre conventions, and how they both can be a cage or a scaffold/foundation on which you can build a skyscraper. Writing in confused, terrible fragments was a major challenge for me, but I learnt that it is way better to write a shitty first draft than to write nothing at all. You can edit a shitty first draft, but you can’t edit nothing.
  2. Related to the point above, I realized that I struggle with linearizing my thoughts, and what I used to do in all my previous paper writing was that I’d stare blankly at my “New Document 1” screen for a couple of hours, agonizing over how I would put down these words. I thought of it like a sprint from the starting line to the finish line, and the few hours I spent staring was me trying to organize my thoughts in my head, until it was acceptable for me to start writing the thoughts, like laying down a neat little footpath from beginning to the end. Nah, doesn’t work like that. And I had to learn to see this not as a failure on my writing juices, but as a process I needed to learn how to embrace.
  3. You write best when you have something to say. I got so stuck at some experiments because I was so caught up in meeting deadlines I lost sight of why I was writing in the first place! And that is such a rough spot to be!

Anyway, I’ve learned so much about writing, and myself, and myself as a writer this semester. Something I might work on for the Capstone? Spending more time reading fiction again, but also learning to harness how my brain works. I learned that I love exploring contradictions and the idea of holding two contradictory ideas at the same time (1984, anyone?), as well as embracing a non-linear train of thought. I guess I want to learn how to use/harness that in my writing, rather than forcing myself to be at odds with how I naturally think and process by creating a “I must write from start to finish!” idea.

I guess that’s all I have to say. With regards to the GIF above, that applies to all the other classes 😉 My GIF for submitting my portfolio (EYY IT LIVES HERE) looks more like this:

But anyway, here’s my Gateway ePortfolio! Lots of pain and agonizing in the process of creating this, but hey, 5 semesters of college has taught me the work you value most is the one you left a piece of your heart in, and that only happens with the pieces that were the hardest to write.

https://jamietohsl.wixsite.com/gateway come visit me!!

 

 

 

 

writer to writer, sorry I’m late

My excitement about the writer to writer event had me so excited… that I completely forgot to blog about it. But never late then never, right?

This event wasn’t entirely what I was expecting, because I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. I know that I love Literati (and all the events that they host), and I love hearing from writers, so I didn’t look too deeply into what was in store.

Hearing from Heather Ann Thompson was INCREDIBLE. Without knowing much about her work, I unrightfully assumed that this was going to be an interview with some random writer that had interesting things to say, but wasn’t as accomplished and well known as Thompson. I wasn’t expecting to hear from a Pulitzer Prize winning author in such an intimate environment. Let alone, on a topic that I’m extremely interested in.

This semester I’m in Psych 211, the service learning class where I get to visit a prison to volunteer every week. Throughout the semester I’ve learned about the criminal justice system in America, so it was especially exciting to get to first hand hear the perspective of someone who is extremely knowledgable about the issues incarcerated people face.

Additionally, aside from the fact that the Attica prison uprising is a subject up my alley, her style of writing about important, nonfiction topics in a way that is appealing to any audience. This is exactly the genre I see myself working with in my future as a writer. I love learning about important social justice issues, but my style of writing is casual and informal; I don’t have much desire to write for an academic audience, but someday I would love to do what she did – become an expert on a topic and tell the true story in a way that compels all different types of readers.

Right off the bat, I loved hearing what Thompson had to say because she started off the night by saying that even though she is an accomplished and published writer, it never came easy. She still feels like she’s constantly working on her writing, and that it never “came naturally,” which is something that I have struggled with when thinking of myself as a writer. She reassured me that dedication, passion, and hard work is enough to craft a compelling piece.

I didn’t ask a question in the Q&A because I wasn’t sure if the question I wanted to ask would be appropriate for the whole audience to hear, but I asked her when she signed the copy of the book I purchased that night. I heard from a professor I know that she used some tricks to obtain documents that were important to her story so I asked her about that, and her explanation of how she did that told me a lot about how investigative journalists and authors work hard to uncover the truth.

Overall, I definitely want to attend another writer to writer event, and I learned so much.

Writer to Writer

Unfortunately, last week, I had to spend my chilly Tuesday night doing a mandatory orientation for a volunteer event that I am going to do – I would have much rather been sipping hot chocolate at Literati listening to Writer to Writer. On the bright side, I was able to spend my chilly Thursday night listening to the mp3 recording of an interview with Phoebe Gloeckner, an Associate Professor in the Stamps School of Art & Design.

Gloeckner is well-known for her novel The Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures. One of the most exciting things for me when I was listening to her interview was that, when discussing her novel, she explained that she created by essentially using the same process that we are using in the Gateway: she took her diary entries from when she was a teenager and put it in novel and comic form – it’s basically like she’s doing one of our experiments! And then it was turned into a movie! I think that’s really exciting and really demonstrates the effectiveness of the experiment process and the gateway course as a whole 🙂 what a fun little connection!

I am always so impressed when I listen to an interview and the person being interviewed is articulate and engaging, because when I am in an interview, I feel like this:

Generally, I was so impressed with the way that Gloeckner was able to speak about her novel in a way that made me understand and connect to it, despite me ever reading it. At one part in the interview, she discusses how it feels to end a large project, saying that she does not feel like there’s any reason to live after doing so because of the deep connection that she has to her work. She said, “my work is me, so, like, who am I?” This really resonated with me and made me reflect on how I feel when working on/finishing MY own work. I feel that way sometimes, too, especially when working on graded work. The pressures of doing a good job when your work so fully encompasses who I am, just makes the stakes that much higher. Gloeckner says that for her, personally, she has to redefine who she is every time. I am going to take this very powerful sentiment with me as I continue working on my fully fleshed experiment.

 

Lattes and Literature: A Great End to an Exhausting Tuesday

Attending the Writer to Writer event last Tuesday was a breath of fresh air in the midst of a very busy week. As soon as I stepped into Literati, I was overwhelmed by the warm fuzzies I always get in an independent bookstore. Upstairs, I bought the best tea latte of all time and took my seat: a rickety, high-backed wooden chair near the front but not in the front (I’m pretty fearless but sitting in the front row of a writer’s talk is where I draw the line). The room soon grew crowded, but a cozy, comfortable kind of crowded. It was nice to see how many people turned out to listen to someone talking about writing!

Heather Ann Thompson’s insights about writing really encouraged, inspired, and educated me. I appreciated her perspective about writing sensitive material that was engaging and accurate without being sensationalized. That’s a difficult line to walk, and I think I’d need to revise about twenty times if I were to write a passage on prison torture, but her advice gave me the confidence to at least feel like I could attempt it. I think her most impactful comment arose when asked about confidence as a writer. Her commentary on “being your own source” and being confident enough if your research to express it freely really spoke to me. Just a day prior, I had turned in the longest research paper I’ve ever written (twenty-one pages!), and still felt a little unsure about my ability to draw original conclusions from my research. Her words echoed what I probably already knew: you know this information, now do something with it!

The interview left me wishing I had enough cash on me to buy the book! I have been interested in prison systems, mass incarceration, and the prison industrial complex for a while, and Thompson’s Blood In The Water seems like an interesting and informative read. I can’t wait to check it out from the library and see how she presents her research in an engaging narrative style. This is another thing I was left wondering: how to combine research and narrative effectively. I’d love to try my hand at it someday, and I bet I’ll gain a great genre model from Thompson’s book!

 

Literati Vibezzzzz

I am somewhat delayed in reacting to the event this past Tuesday in Literati. While I am glad I made the trek to hear Dr. Thompson, immediately following  I began to run a never-ending fever, so this event marked my last moment outside my bed for a few days.

As I sat down to defrost in my small wooden chair on the upstairs level of Literati I couldn’t help but feel like this is what college about. This is the kind of thing my parents always told me to take advantage of in my university years. A conversation between two intellectuals about something they both specialize in, and something I hope to specialize in. Shelley and Dr. Thompson come from two very different fields but like always writing plays the role of magical matchmaker. The two connected immediately and the event did not feel like an interview, but a conversation. This made it successful in my head, good job Shelley:)

I was fascinated by the book Thompson wrote Blood in the Water. Going into the event I half expected it to be a boring history book about some event that goes on and on and about the boring details of the event. I (having done no research, oops) was pleasantly surprised by the endearing and thriller component of her story. She quite literally rewrote a cool, underplayed moment in history. I appreciated her honesty in explaining her process as well. I think she worked hard to be unbiased and incorporate all elements of every story she heard in telling her story. This is undoubtedly hard.

One tip she gave was about how the best writing does not need adjectives. When she first said this I was a little confused. Adjectives are the key to the description, aren’t they? I have always loved playing around with adjectives ever since I learned what they were playing MadLibs. As she continued her thought though I actually understood what she meant. The way in which something is described is much more than one word, it’s the build-up and the lead out. One word shouldn’t define something, and with this logic, adjectives are not always necessary and sometimes just contribute to jargon. Thank you for this, Dr. Thompson I actually really needed to hear that!

I also was impressed with her answer and composure to the question about her privilege in regards to the topics she writes about. She was very matter of fact and accepting of her own identity and she made a great point. If more doors open for her because of her identity, why shouldn’t she take advantage of them and tell the stories that otherwise may not get told?

Overall, I think the event was successful and I am glad this was my last appearance before my fever fest 2018. It gave me a whole lot to think about from my bed these past few days.

W2W Podcast

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the Writer to Writer event, so instead I listened to a recording from the Sweetland site. The speaker I chose is Dr. Howard Markel, a pediatrician, writer, and medical historian who teaches here at the University of Michigan. He’s written and co-authored several books about medicine, and has contributed articles and opinions to a variety of publications. Most recently, he published a book about the Kellogg brothers.

Markel’s description jumped out to me because science writing (and scientific writing) are important to me. Not only do I need to be able to write about science to pursue a PhD in a technical field, but I’m interested in learning how to better communicate science to the public. Also, many other STEM majors I know “hate” writing, so I love hearing from other scientists who value writing as much as I do.

I found Markel’s comments on audience particularly interesting. Markel mostly writes for  NPR listeners and NYT readers, a generally well-educated crowd, so he said he can comfortably use a certain level of vocabulary. This made me wonder whether it’s “okay” for a writer, particularly someone writing about more niche, technical topics, to assume their writers have a certain level of education. Doesn’t that automatically make what the writer has to say inaccessible, or is the source (NPR, NYT) already inaccessible enough that the writer’s efforts won’t matter? Especially in the context of science writing, I think making information accessible is important, since scientific knowledge is often badly communicated to (or withheld from) the public.

Markel’s audience (I’ll just call them NPR listeners) was also present at the Moth showing. I remember feeling very inspired by the Moth show, but also sad that the crowd was so homogenous — I’m pretty confident that the majority of Moth listeners are white, liberal, and middle- to upper-class. After that event, I started wondering to what degree a writer, podcast host, storyteller, etc should tailor their work to a specific audience, particularly if that audience already receives criticism for being elitist and exclusive.

In addition to making me think about audience, Markel’s talk sparked some interesting dialogue about what makes science writing effective. He mentioned that to be a good narrator, a science writer should insert themselves into the story, but not so much that they become the main character. Markel said he feels that science writing is becoming too author-centic, although in his opinion, younger generations seem to prefer that type of science writing. I think inserting oneself into a science story can help to humanize the topic (as in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks), but actually, one of the best science articles I’ve ever read puts the spotlight on people affected by the topic, not on the author.

Writer to Writer Literati Event

While I was at first skeptical about leaving my warm bed on a cold Tuesday night, I left the Writer to Writer event extremely happy and pleased. This was the first event I have attended where a successful writer and academic was interviewed by another successful writer and academic. I thought that this dynamic was incredible because both Shelley and Dr. Thompson were always on the same page. They truly understood each other and this made the audience feel like they could understand them as well. I felt as though I was included in the conversation.

Literati was a great venue to have Writer to Writer. It felt homey and inviting. It is a wonderful feeling being in the audience with people who love writing just as much as you do. Everyone there trekked out on the cold Tuesday night because they wanted to be there. This feeling could definitely be felt throughout the room. As Dr. Thompson spoke about specific details about her research and as she read from her book, the audience was all on the edge of their seats.

I have never taken a history class at the University of Michigan, so before the event I was not sure what being an historian exactly entailed. I loved how Dr. Thompson compared being an historian to being a detective. It was so inspiring listening to Dr. Thompson because she is so passionate about what she does. I hope that one day I can be as passionate as she is in my professional life.

What struck me as most useful and insightful was how Dr. Thompson said that there is always a story, but it is about how you choose to convey the story that matters. As a writer, your voice is so important because it is yours and only yours. How we choose to convey stories and experiences to the world shows the world who we are.

I left wanting to know more about how Dr. Thompson decided how she wanted to convey the stories she researched. As she explained, she is writing for so many people and from so many different perspectives. How is she able to come to her decisions? If I were in her position I would struggle making a decision, and then probably change my decision many times before sticking with it. I also find it so amazing how she stuck with her book for thirteen years. That amount of commitment is truly inspiring.

I did not ask a question at the Q&A because frankly I was just enjoying listening to other intelligent people. I appreciated hearing from not only Dr. Thompson, but also other people in the audience who had important questions and comments to say as well. I loved how people in the audience nodded when people would ask Dr. Thompson questions. It seemed as though we were all on the same page and really created a sense of community.

Overall, the Writer to Writer event was inspiring. I wish more college students would attend because it really makes you think about yourself and what it important to you. I learned insights about how to be a better writer, but also insights about life as well. For example, I learned the importance of balancing a tragic event so that it does not undermine the event but does not dissuade the reader, and I learned that even the best of the best can always improve.

Listening to the Writer to Writer Podcast

I wasn’t able to attend the event at Literati bookstore (what a shame, I heard the topic and felt SO FOMO), so I listened to one of the other episodes in the Sweetland Center’s Topics in Writing Podcast. I listened to the episode with Elizabeth Wardle, Professor of Writing at Miami University, discussing the topic “Teaching to Encourage Transfer Across Courses and Context”.

I chose this podcast because I was curious what professors of writing think about how writing classes are supposed to build “general writing skills” even though writing anything is always so specific to the rhetorical situation! I guess it is something we discussed earlier in the course but I just wanted to come back to this idea and reflect, especially in light of the fact that we are almost done with the Gateway course and I am wondering how this class has changed how I approach writing from here on out. Moreover, I have plans to be an English teacher after graduation, and I also just want to think about how I might teach my students to be effective writers beyond the classroom.

Something in particular that struck me when listening to the podcast was when she talked about how students and instructors may approach the same genre with very different ideas of what it encompasses. She mentioned that an instructor may assign the same “write a journal” assignment semester after semester, but every student comes to it with their own different idea of what it is, and that could be a huge stumbling block in the student’s ability to write what the instructor is looking for. I think it is so important then, to think about how individual experience informs their conception of particular genres, and how crucial it is to bridge any gaps in conceptualization between instructor and student, so as to prevent frustration on both ends.

Another point she brought up was about “meeting requirements”. Often, in writing assignments, it is easy to fall into the “fulfil the set requirements mindset”, which is basically follow numerical requirements set on an assignment. Easy right? 10 pages, double spaced, font size 12, 3-5 academic sources. I found it really enlightening when she talked about how she felt that requirements really depended on each student and their individual topic and admire how she could individually discuss with them what they might need, and make them aware of it themselves. As a student, it would probably be frustrating to get the answer “it depends” all the time, but it is so true! There is an ideal number of [insert item] for every writing assignment, but it is so dependent on context, topic, rhetorical situation etc., and I agree with her that it is a more valuable learning and growth experience for the student to wrestle with what their specific writing needs are.

If I had been present, I really wish I could have asked how she might encourage students to apply their writing knowledge beyond classroom settings, such as writing for non-academic purposes, and what she thinks of teaching transfer, not just across academic disciplines, but also making connections to how they and their writing might function in the world.

Topics in Writing Podcast: Linda Adler-Kassner

I was busy Tuesday night with another mandatory presenter as part of my BA 200 class. From the class discussion it appeared everyone enjoyed Heather Ann Thompson. I alternatively listened to an episode of the “Topics in Writing Podcast,” choosing Linda Adler-Kassner, a Dean and Professor of Writing at the University of California – Santa Barbara. The discussion revolved mostly around students’ experience in writing classes and the challenging, educational process which is learning to write. Here’s some takeaways:

  • Good writing isn’t one thing.

Adler-Kassner spoke towards the idea that students often search for a definition of what good writing is, when, in reality, that definition is malleable, shifting across cultures. Different ideologies, expectations, and audiences all influence how a piece of writing is received and analyzed. This gets back to a major part of this course which has been our discussion regarding the importance of understanding audience. A piece of writing can be incredible in the writer’s eyes but if the audience doesn’t connect with the writing in the same way, it will be negatively-received.

  • learning writing is about building a framework that is transferrable across topics, courses, and situations.

The process of learning how to write was also discussed heavily. The skills a student learns in a writing class should be applicable to the other subject matters they decide to take. In this way, learning how to write is more about building a framework, and understanding of the skills and structures employed in strong writing and applying them across different academic situations.  In this light, more connections need to be made across disciplines both between instructors and in content to solidify student’s understanding of what is expected of them.

  • Writing is a subject not an activity.

Students often see writing as an activity, something they do in the process of learning other subjects. Writing students, however, understand that writing is a skill that can be learned just like any other subject they are studying. Successful learning in writing is measured through the application of skills learned continually through writing. In other words doing it. Another part of learning writing is realizing progress—understanding growth in writing—because it helps build a better understanding of good writing.

  • Reflection is crucial. in understanding your learning and writing, accepting struggle, the more you know the harder it becomes

Reflection is a crucial part in understanding your relationship with writing. A common misconception students have is this belief that you can grow as a writer to the point where it is no longer challenging. Linda Adler-Kassner dispels that notion explaining how it actually gets more difficult as you become an expert. The more you know, the more techniques, skills, and knowledge you can employ, the more complex the process becomes. This is important to recognize because it will change students’ understanding of the craft as a whole.

A Rambling Reflection

Literati, as a space, encompasses the energy that all bookstores have. It is warm, somewhat crowded, and smells like coffee. Heather Ann Thompson filled that space with a lively personality with a lot of interesting things to say.

Thompson spoke about many things that I am sure we have all thought about but have never taken the time to articulate. Thompson prioritizes taking the enormous amount of knowledge that exists in classrooms and giving it context.  Her contempt of academia for the purposes of academia was obvious – that is why she identifies as both an academic and as a public intellectual.

I sense this effect in my own writing – I am drifting towards writing for professors and GSIs. I find myself adding lofty jargon to my writing that, I half-heartedly believe, elevates my writing to sound more “professional”. Right now, there is a huge implication to inaccessible knowledge. As a student studying public policy, I learn more and more every day about the lengths politicians will go to make legislation dense and full of technical language. This language only serves to make the regular citizen struggle to understand how they are governed. So, even though the information is “available”, it is not “accessible”. This is not an accident. Even in academia, when the motives aren’t as malicious, creating inaccessible knowledge does a good job of creating information only the “elite” can access. Thompson is chipping away at that practice, from the inside.

Another thing I really enjoyed about Thompson’s talk was her struggle with writing trauma. Thompson explained how it is hard to find a balance between overwriting and underwriting graphic situations. On one hand, you want to properly express the weight of the situation. However, being too explicit can actually push people away from empathy, creating an almost voyeuristic effect instead.

One of my friends, Karolina, has a lot to say about this idea. As a black woman, she is constantly bombarded with pictures and videos on social media that show black bodies being abused. In the last couple of years, videotaped police shootings have begun to circulate on social media. These videos are posted in the hopes of raising awareness for the issue. However, many experts maintain that though these videos are effective at horrifying individuals into actions, they are more damaging to the cause.

Research suggests that for people of color who have frequent exposure to the shootings of black people can have long-term mental health consequences. According to Monnica Williams, director of the Center for Mental Health Disparities at the University of Louisville, graphic footage “combined with lived experiences of racism, can create severe psychological problems reminiscent of post-traumatic stress syndrome”.  It does a great job of desensitizing the rest of us to horrific shootings like this. Do we have to see continued footage of black men, women, and children being shot to spark enough outrage to act? I do not think so. (Or at least, I hope.) These videos are circulated generating hundreds and thousands of views, which means someone is profiting while black people are suffering. Karolina, after failing to rid her social media experience of these types of videos, has taken an indefinite social media hiatus. Even still, she still gets sent these videos by well-meaning peers.

Thompson articulates this struggle incredibly well. Overall, I was inspired by her approach to writing. She does it because she considers it her duty share stories that her privilege gives her access to, even though writing may not come naturally. “There’s no choice,” Thompson said. “You weigh in now or you don’t. You write now or you don’t.”