the promise of growth

This semester, I have the privilege of being in two courses that are not into grading and are more into growing. The Minor in Writing gateway course is my first game-ified class that seeks to remove the stresses of grades and instead urges students to try a wide range of activities in the pursuit of being a better writer. My English 225 course on the Syntax of Sports also does not grade papers in the traditional sense. Rather we have a certain amount of writing tasks to do in numerous subcategories like “Gratitude” and “Conscientiousness” that will put us at an B, B+ or A- level. The syllabus is titled “Most Likely to Succeed,” off of Malcolm Gladwell’s article of the same name, and proposes a model that if you write every week and have the time to sit down with someone to talk about your writing in that same week, you will become a better writer. While Shelley employs a peer-to-peer interaction with her students, Mr. Barry has us refer to him by this name, and in the classroom and my interactions with him, I am Ms. Ring. I definitely prefer the elevated status received when referring to a teacher a little more formally, but the personable-ness of Shelley is also worth a lot, too. While the teaching styles of Shelley and Mr. Barry differ, their approach to giving their students access to their writing expertise and the high levels of enthusiasm they instill in their students is un-matchable to any of my previous English teachers.

At first, I was really scared of having not one, but two classes that threw away traditional grades in exchange for allowing students to develop as long as they put in the hard work. My Upper Level Writing Requirement to fulfill the Minor grades traditionally, a political science class on Latin American politics. It requires four short papers and one long paper that are weighted into our overall grade. While we are lectured and talk about the effectiveness of arguments and logic for the articles we read and our papers, this is my least favorite class to attend or do work in. It’s no so much that the subject is dull, but the rigid grading structure and general lack of peer editing really plummets my interest on a class and writing level. While political science is more difficult to write about than sports, I think the role of the course structure also solidifies my opinion on this issue.

The greatest strength of Writing 220 and my section of English 225 is that since our grades are dependent on the effort we put in, it allows us to be more proud of what we do with the models given to us. Many times this semester I have wanted to share my Syntax of Sports papers with my parents and friends because of how excited I am by how it turned out. Also, I am able to notice that even though writing came fairly easily to me before when I didn’t have a strong writing toolbox, I still write fluidly while employing the many stylistic writing techniques I have learned and adopted in these classes.

While I am on track for top grades in both classes, that grade will do little to represent how much more confident I feel as a writer after dancing through the hula hoops Shelley and Mr. Barry have put me through throughout the term. While in January I was still feeling out just how useful the game-ified and effort model would work, I can report now that these grading structures fully delivered on their promise of growth.

Textual Healing

My love affair with the semicolon began back in my high school days.  I had already learned about the saucy minx in middle school, though I had yet to learn just how saucy and minx-ish she (because that curvy figure and sense of mystery could only belong to a lady, let’s be real) could be.

It was in my freshman Introduction to Literature class; our teacher had decided to spend a day going over common grammar errors, and had just opened up the floor for questions when it happened.  One student asked if we could please go over that “half-comma-half-dot-thing.”

Teach responded with “Oooh yes, the sexy one.”  And wrote the following sentence on the board:

“I ate the whole pie; I barfed.”

Rawr.  Am I right?

She then went on to explain that the reason semicolons are so very sexy as follow: they join two independent clauses in a snuggly, intimate relationship.  That’s hot, right?  I mean, I say that as a fiercely independent little bookworm, so I suppose that it stands to reason verbal four-play (or, if I may, textual healing) between two self-aware subjects might turn me on.

That being said,  I hate commas.

Commas are like my least favorite people: so indecisive!  You can use them in far too many ways: linking dependent clauses, appositives, lists…I don’t see why they can’t just take a leaf out of the semicolon’s book and find one path and stick to it.  Also, they enable dependent clauses to continue their reliance on perfectly lovely independent clauses; and if that’s not messed up, I don’t know what is.  I mean, come on, dependent clauses!  Go find yourself!  Get an ankle tattoo, travel to Europe, try spending more by yourself, just do something besides leaning on independent clauses for personal validation.  And commas, quit allowing them to live such an incomplete life.

You sicken me, commas.

But even though commas are terrible and I still forget how to use them from time to time, I can live with them.  Though that’s largely due to the fact that I have semicolons in my life; they get me through tough times.

words and moving words

The more I’ve gotten into reading for pleasure online, the better I have realized my ideal type of work I prefer to interact with. I’ve always been a huge fan of long, informative articles on topics I admire such as Detroit sports, college culture and anything Michigan. If a writer attracts my attention in a topic of interest for the first 30 seconds it takes me to read their piece, I’m hooked.

With my discovery of booming centers of creativity like BuzzFeed, The Rsvlts, and The Daily Pregame (formerly known as College Town Life), I have become an avid reader of not only blocks of text pieces, but ones that incorporate impressive infographics, list and memes. I browse these sites for laughter, inspiration and occasionally to learn about something that I was uninformed of before. I look forward to updates and love going through the archives to stumble across articles I might have already read but wouldn’t mind reading again. It’s sites like these, with much user-generated content, that get me excited about writing and what you can do with it beyond the bounds of the English language.

As much as I enjoy these websites, I find myself being turned off from BuzzFeed video or the same material presented in video form. I was trying to figure out why I can go through Jimmy Tatro’s entire video library and not be bored, but resist watching a segment like two-minute 10 Scrumptious Facts About Your Favorite Cereal Brands or one of the other playful videos found on their site. I think this is because I can’t easily scroll through a video and get a sense if I want to “read” it fully or not, or even skim it. Short videos are meant to be watched all the way through, and with my busy schedule I’d rather spend 30 seconds skimming a BuzzFeed article than taking a full two minutes on a BuzzFeed video.

This article over video preference is somewhat topic specific though. If a video headline really caught my eye I wouldn’t hesitate to watch that. But with the wide range of videos on the net, I’d rather spend my time watching Ted Talks or ESPN’s 30 for 30 series or movies I’ve been dying to see but haven’t got around to or Netflix. Producers of culture and content are vying for our time, our screen time and intellectual time.

Even we are engaging in trying to get each other’s attention through flashy titles and strong writing that will get a reader through to the very end of our pieces. It’s a tricky thing, both muddling through a sea of content and producing content ourselves to be muddled through and plucked out as worthy of attention. Sometimes I feel as if even trying is a winless battle in a place where the top dogs leave little room for other mutts to emerge.

As we become more digitally saturated, I hope that I’ll eventually like to watch videos more often but until that time, I’ll take my learning traditionally, through text. Even though it’s old-fashioned, it feels more comfortable to me.


How to Write an Un-love Story

Figuring out what exactly it is I’m doing for Essay 2 has been kind of an adventure.  I’ve had about a billion different ideas about how to go about re-purposing an old piece, a poetic elegy inspired by my break-up with my ex-boyfriend.  I initially wanted to write a screenplay, but found that everything I wrote in that format came out sounding forced and cliché.  I then thought about trying my hand at making an animated short, but then I remembered that I don’t know the first thing about making animated shorts.  Whoops.

Eventually, I decided to compose an audio essay a-la The Snap Judgment Podcast.  The final product will (I hope) be in the form of fictional story, spoken by me, and inspired by the relationship mourned in my elegy.  Also, like Snap Judgment, I’ll include music and sound effects to give the story added depth and texture.

Because this the story of a break-up, my research has been focused mainly on finding other creative work (e.g. movies, T.V. shows, written stories) that tell similar stories.  For example, my annotated bibliography currently includes the movie Annie Hall, which begins with its star (played by Woody Allen) announcing, “Annie and I broke up,” and then proceeds to tell the story of their relationship.  I also cite 500 Days of Summer, which begins similarly to Annie Hall by asserting that it is “A story of boy meets girl, but not a love story,” and Sleepwalk With Me, which follows the un-doing of its protagonist’s relationship with his girlfriend alongside his struggle with a rare sleep disorder.

These stories, I think, belong to their own, sub-genre of love stories: the non-love story.  I’ll admit that this title needs some work, but it’s the best I could come up with for now.  Labels aside, the non-love story shares all the trappings of the regular love story, but with one key difference: in the moment where a relationship is “put to the test,” it fails.  Furthermore, in regular love stories, this challenge usually takes the form of a problem that would absolutely never happen in real life, like discovering that one’s significant other is a vampire, learning that the person you fell in love with is only dating you because of a bet they lost or hope to win one, or, while wearing a disguise, falling for someone who doesn’t know your true identity.  But in non-love stories, these challenges are usually more realistic, like trying to make a long-distance relationship work, infidelity, or conflicting values or goals in romantic partners.

The reason for this, I think, is that people want love stories that comfort them.  We want Cinderella to run off with the Prince because it reassures us that the perfect partner is out there, and that they’ll find us no matter what.  We also want to watch Tom spiraling after Summer ends it with him, because we want to know that we aren’t the only people who’ve fallen apart post-break-up.  On the surface, these two stories couldn’t be more different, but they both deliver the same message, “It will al be okay.”  For the heart-broken, they promise that things will get better and assure them that they’re not alone, and for those in stable relationships, they remind them how good they have it.

I wonder now if my non-love story will provide the same sort of comfort at those that have inspired it.  I wonder also if, by writing it, I’m trying to find some way to comfort myself.  Maybe that’s what really drives these love stories; it’s not about what the audience gets from it, but what the author feels writing it.

Being Full of It or, How I Feel About Charles Baxter

Here’s the thing: I kind of love Charles Baxter. I mean, how could I not? The dude’s a serious badass. Sure, he doesn’t pistol-whip his foes or go on high-speed car chases (as far as I know), but he writes beautiful, heart-breaking stories about the Midwest that have many a Midwesterner’s approval. This is no small feat. On that note, if you’re not familiar with his work, do your soul a favor and go get a copy of Feast of Love from your local library. They’ll have it; it won a National Book Award after all.

So it comes as no surprise, then, that when I had to pick a piece to respond to for the Minor in Writing blog, I went straight for Sir Baxter’s “Full of It,” expecting to find something that reads both cool and authentic, and leaves me with a head full of new and interesting thoughts.

Well, I wasn’t disappointed, but there were a few times where I found his portrayal of the “suffering artist,” wherein he likens creative work to an “affliction” borne by an artist, a little cliché. I’ve met enough artists to know that the drive they feel to make art is, in some ways, burdensome, and leads to as much trouble as it does good, but I think that it’s worth noting that they make a choice when they decide to act on their artistic impulses, and isn’t the ability to even have such choices a privilege in itself? I guess I just get tired of talented people complaining that being talented is both as much a blessing as it is a curse. I’d like to tell all of these talented people that it’s just a blessing, and that part you’re calling a “curse” is just what the rest of us call life. Sometimes it’s kind of hard.

But besides that one complaint, I’m pretty happy I read this piece. I, like so many other young 20-somethings preparing to leave college and enter the “real world,” am nothing if not a little lost, and to see a writer whom I admire say that “wisdom is simply somebody’s personal prejudice masquerading as truth,” and encourage me to “make my own mistakes the way that I made mine,” is pretty reassuring.  What’s more, I like that Baxter is all about encouraging people to figure their own stuff out, and makes a point to emphasize the value in working through your mistakes because I am just all about making mistakes lately. I also like that he points out that all writers have to be “good noticers,” because I’ve always felt that way about myself. For example, I can tell you that I remember the time I fought back tears while my 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. V., yelled at me for talking in class, I remember feeling the corners of my mouth pull themselves sideways while my throat tightened up, and that I saw the moment Mrs. V. started to re-think her choice to shame me in front of everyone in the way her brows pulled apart.

Point is, to hear a writer whom look up to say, in his own words, “Hey Brooke, you’re on the right track to be a pretty decent writer!” is pretty comforting. What’s less comforting, of course, is him following with, “You know those flaws you have? They’re intimately connected to your talent as a writer.” I think I always knew as much, that my love of gossip, tendency to daydream, and unrelenting insecurities were all what drove me to write with the voice I have, and what created that “relatable” quality in my work. Of course, I am not an aspiring fiction writer; at least, not in the same way I think Charles Baxter was at my age. When I think about my future career in writing, I usually think about pitching a T.V. show to HBO, publishing collections of personal essays about my own misadventures, and composing screen plays based on my favorite books. For whatever reason, I’d like to think that this path, the Brooke Gabriel path, will be different from the Charles Baxter path. That in choosing a writing career that involves different media than the short story or novel, I can simply take the good bits that come with this “affliction” or “condition” Baxter and I both suffer from and avoid all the bad parts that come with it.

But of course, I, like Baxter, am full of it.

growth and me: an e-port plan

As I delve further into the Minor in Writing program I have become more comfortable in talking about my writing while in the process of writing. That being said, glancing over the e-portfolio prompt I have an overwhelming feeling of anxiety towards it. While gathering the elements required to construct a complete portfolio won’t be too difficult, the presentation and aura of the site will certainly prove to be challenging. Essentially, the e-portfolio is asking us to represent ourselves, our identity as writers in a digital space that can be accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. Similar to my attitudes towards blogging to an audience of everyone, this e-portfolio puts those sentiments into a larger context.

As I browse the very specific questions asked of us on the prompt page, one draws to me particularly, “How do you want to present yourself as a writer?” I think on a subconscious level I am always aware of how I present myself and how I sound to others, that is someone who chooses her words wisely and likes to write. To explicitly answer this question by way of a portfolio will be a little more daunting. I want my portfolio to act as a springboard and parallel my writing style and personality. I want the reader to walk away with a sense of my writer’s identity through the materials I present to them.

This will be my second time constructing an e-portfolio, as I was required to do one for my Environmental Journalism class. We did a lot of metawriting on our sites but nothing to advanced as far as layout and theme. Like the minor portfolio, many components go into the overall product which enhances the experience of showcasing the work of the course.

This time around, I think starting early in my ideas will only be beneficial to me in the long run. Even this post is making me excited to play around with content and layout during spring break next week with all the free time I’ll be having by staying in the polar vortex. I know the words I put on the page are as equally as important as the layout. I want my site to be exciting and something that I won’t get bored of looking at or updating (similar to how I want to feel about my re-purposing and re-mediation projects).

Since I’ve decided to do a re-purposing piece that involves me talking about my relationship with drinking and how that has evolved since college has started, I want my guiding thesis for the site to be that of personal growth. The person I was in September 2011 (when I started college) might as well be a different person than who I am today. I want to take my readers on a journey through writing and exploring this growth theme. Perhaps too I could incorporate the subtheme of what’s involved in growth, like failures, triumphs, and learning, with sample pieces to illustrate them.

My exploration of this theme through my portfolio stems in part to my philosophy on life and education. I frequently ask myself, what is it I’m doing today that makes me get better, learn? My biggest error in life would be to go through not quenching my thirst for knowledge and desire for growth. Hopefully I can capture these feelings in my e-portfolio.

the life of language

As an official twenty-something for over six months now, I have had plenty of people who I have been close to walk out on my life for any number of reasons, and have been guilty of the same affair myself. This is inevitable for us still deciding who the real diamonds in our life should be and who the knock-off rocks are we choose to discard. When a relationship begins to turn sour, I try to reminisce on better times where the status of our friendship seemed like it could never get to a breaking point. How did we talk to each other and at what frequency? At what level of comfort in language did we experience with each other? Perhaps we naturally grew apart and developed dissimilar interests, or had an incident that caused the friendship to implode. In the sphere of personal relationships, I believe language is a key often overlooked in determining our triumphs and failures.

The power of language to dictate the course of a relationship has been something I have always thought about, more so than my behavior. It’s what we say that determines how we want ourselves to be viewed to others. We can use it destroy enemies, praise our best friends, establish our passion for a lover. The receiver’s response and interpretation judge our character in return. Sometimes we claim that what we say or write would not have the power it eventually did (“I didn’t know what I said had hurt you”). Naturally, and sometimes deliberately, our words inflect a tone and a mood, both in speech and print, that establishes meaning and purpose for others.

As such, individuals who act as masters of the craft of language are able to use the effect of the words they use to carry out their desires, whatever those may entail. When I tell my friend that a guy I just met “has a way with words,” she can imply that he’s really good at telling people what they want to hear. Similarly if I’m able to convey how I feel over a text message by the way in which I structure my words to the recipient, they might consider me to have a likable personality and proceed to spend more time with me.

Language usage in personal relationships is a tricky network to navigate. It’s not just the language being used that matters but at what time and frequency and for whom. My main vendetta with this connection is when others abuse language to create elaborate lies or cover up their mistakes. That can be the most powerful form of language abuse, but even on a smaller scale, we often lie to each other all the time about our own personal states.

One of the most simple things you can ask somebody is, “what’s on your mind?” It’s so simple yet so intimidating, as the words suggest the person really wants to know what you’re thinking about at the very moment. Naturally responding to this question might not be an option if what you’re thinking about is deemed inappropriate, or something that the person wouldn’t want to hear. I sometimes create alternative ways to satisfy the question trying to seem genuine while really covering up thoughts that I reserve for me.

Even though I don’t always truly answer the question, at least I know my lie was not deliberate. Once again, I revert back to the language’s power to alter the course of our personal relationships. The words we choose create the world we see. We need to always keep this idea in the back of our mind as we navigate our lives and language’s role within them.

Evolution of a Reader/Writer

The readings this week made me think a lot about how reading affects writing and the ways in which they are positioned and valued to us in society. How we learn and the level at which we master these two integral life skills greatly shape our life paths and what we do and contribute to the world. According to Brandt’s “The Status of Writing,” we’re switching from a nation of readers to a nation of writers, in part because we have the ability to read so much more than we used to with the spread of mass communication and information technologies.

I always have considered myself first a reader then a writer. I read to learn about something, I read for class, I read to borrow and steal techniques of good writing. Instead of reading exclusively for content, nowadays I look to form and function too, as my college education has instructed me to do. Before college, my reading/writing life was content-driven, simple, and largely taking everything at which I read at face value neglecting to reflect on and think critical of the text.

While reading the Penrose and Geigler’s “Reading and Writing About Authority” about the different methods in which Janet and Roger composed their reports given the same prompt, I was able to explicitly realize how much my own reading and writing habits have evolved since entering the University. When I track my growth as a writer, I’ll try to detect the evolution of my writing samples and how my writing has sophisticated over time. When I track my growth as a reader, I can pinpoint my shift from teen fiction to more nonfiction texts and then academic articles and reading for intellectual curiosity, as well as an abundance of online content.

By highlighting the study of the college freshman as an “outsider” to an “insider” in his domain, Penrose and Geigler have reasserted my own feelings I had as a freshman and how I used to feel when writing academically. Roger knows that knowledge claims can be contested causing him to write with authority. My graduated high school self certainly did not know I could formally challenge what published authors had written through my own writing. In fact, most of the ways in which Janet went about pursuing information from the article pool I would have done myself back then, heavily focusing on the content rather than the methods and form. Janet’s habits were so closely related to my own just a few years ago I thought I was reading an article about my own habits.

It wasn’t until last semester when I finally began to understand that reading an academic article (or anything really) relies heavily on understanding the claims the author is making. My International Studies course on development had us reading many articles on the different facets of the topic, and when my lecturer covered them in lecture, she consistently used the author’s names to describe arguments. While I didn’t remember author names as well as I did the content of their arguments, I understood that their words and writing was meant to be challenged and discussed in a constructive manner.

These readings have given me a lot of perspective on growth and the complex relationship that reading and writing share with each other. While I was always implicitly aware of how my reading affected my writing habits and styles, these authors shed to light more clearly my position in the context.

Brooke Writes

Because I have a lot on my mind, and I don’t like a heavy brain.
Because if I said the things I pen in my journal out loud, God help me.
Because I don’t know myself that well yet
and it’s my hope that I will someday.
Because I honestly don’t know what I think about things like literary classics, arguments with my friends, catcalling, and the inherent terror that comes with being alive on this planet
and I’d like to find that out.

Because I have some really, really good ideas as well as some really, really terrible ideas, and I can’t always tell one from the other.
Because that woman on NPR once said language is powerful,

mundane sign

and I believed her.
Because that guy my dad works with said that print is dead, and I didn’t.

Because I’m angry,
feeling dumb,
feeling smart,
or just feeling,
and it makes for beautiful words.

Because as far as I can tell, mind-reading is not a real thing, and I know of no better way into someone’s head. Because I have thoughts, ideas, and experiences that are valid, and I think that there are people who could benefit from hearing as much.
Because sometimes, I feel wronged, and I need to get right.
Because I am a truly anxious person, and I feel safe here, on the page in front of you.
Because it makes me happy, dammit!

Why do I write?
The same as anyone else, I suppose, out of necessity.  Though if I’m being really honest, I think I might need it just a little bit more than everyone else.

On Metawriting: Orwell, Didion and Sullivan

I was required to read Orwell’s essay as a junior in high school in honors English, and I don’t remember much about he said, only that I enjoyed it. Now presented with the opportunity to refresh my memory and through more experienced eyes, I can better understand what Orwell was trying to get at with his piece. As a long-time fan of Orwell’s 1984, I found the fact that he did not consider himself a writer until later in his life even though he participated in “literary activities” quite surprising and uncomfortable. Where does a voice find itself if it does not get to begin developing upon learning of the English language early on in life? I found his honesty with the process as humbling, perhaps because I have put him on a pedestal of whom I consider to be a great writer, but also because it takes much courage to go out and be so self-critical of your own work in the middle of your writing career. Bashedly describing, “every book is a failure” about his own writing seems overcritical to me. How can he consider his books failures when they are praised the world over?

Orwell’s essay really pioneered metawriting, and I really enjoyed his motivations lists all writers possess, although I disagreed that all writing has political purpose. I never had considered my own writing to be tied to a political purpose. I write for classes or for my own personal benefit, not for a political purpose. However, I could see why he chose to put this on his list since much of his writing was very political as well as other writers of the time.

In Didion’s piece, I was confused by how she described herself as unable to think but able to write by saying, “I knew I couldn’t think. All I knew then was what I couldn’t do. All I knew then was what I wasn’t, and it took me some years to discover what I was. Which was a writer.” Writing takes a tremendous amount of thinking in order to mash words together into coherent sentences. Of course, putting thoughts to paper doesn’t necessarily equate to writing, but ultimately writing is what thinking becomes. Her way of describing this can’t think/can write epiphany didn’t seem right to me.

I absolutely loved the way she described the process of her writing, that the picture determines the arrangement of words. “It tells you, you don’t tell it,” she writes. I resonated with this because it made complete sense to me. I often find myself converting images into words with my writing, and the images help guide me through that process.

Of the three pieces, I found myself least relating to Sullivan’s blog piece. His description of blogging as a “spontaneous expression of instant thought” made the intimacy I experience with the private nature of my own writing invalid. His unique perspective of someone who has been blogging since its origins with the spread of the Internet allows me to understand his point of view and why he finds it so rewarding. Indeed, the personality and human brand that emerges from the art was little accessible before the days of the blog when people had to send manuscripts to editors in hopes of getting their work published. His ability to show how blogging connects voices, sparks debate and creates a space for instant thought and communication resonates well with me. He also is able to value the art of reading words on paper, and how a mix of digital and print media should coexist alongside each other instead of digital media completely destroying whatever writing we have left on paper. Also, I found his dissection of the word blog itself extremely interesting, since I never thought about it myself. It made me wonder of the origins of other words I take for granted, like Twitter and Instagram. Surely, they carry similar origin stories.

Overall, the three pieces shared a similar thread in that they take the voices of passionate writers and a blogger to say why they love what they do and what motivates them. It’s not just enough for them to practice what they do—writing, they need to write about writing too. While I don’t know if I’m at that quite of level of enthusiasm for the art, I can surely appreciate the points these authors so eloquently make.