Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Writer As...?

If there’s one activity to which I do not devote enough time to allow myself a necessary and daily catharsis, it’s writing.

I read others’ writing, I listen to others’ writing, I dream every day and every night about my own writing becoming a being of its own and reaching an audience beyond the innards of my mind and stirring hearts and minds beyond my imaginings and beyond perhaps what my writing could stir in my own heart.

I love my writing, and it is dear to me, to be true!

But it seems there is something about being a writer that takes a good deal of the “fun” out of the process of writing – though others are quite pleased by it and perhaps even sometimes impressed by it, as a writer, the process is merely one of expressing what is already extant to the writer in his or her own head – and therefore, there is nothing particularly special about the writer’s words to the writer him or herself.

But perhaps I underestimate the writer.

To be a writer requires a certain heightened state of mind in which every movement of the earth, every breath of nature, every nervous tic of every person in a room becomes part of the writer’s soul, so that when he or she goes out to a pub or walks down an avenue attempting to clear his or her mind to allow even a brief respite from the stress of awareness, the exact opposite is occurring:

if the writer accidentally slips on a wet spot of pavement, it is indeed no accident.

Perhaps it may not seem like much at the time, but later, when the writer allows his or her subconscious to guide the writing process, a character may end up slipping on a similarly wet fragment of pavement and, because of this seemingly unfortunate event, be accosted by a passerby who is incredibly attractive or kind or soulful and become profoundly attached to this passerby – perhaps enough to fall in love with him or her or seek to learn more about him or her.

Or, perhaps, a writer sits alone at a table consuming a pint that drained him or her of his or her last finances and notices, across the room, that a man who entered the pub merely moments ago slips a nondescript piece of paper to the host at the front, which may not seem like a magnanimous occurrence at the time (and could indeed just be the admission of guilt by the man about his infidelity to his wife, who has entered the pub with him, to a young girl who trusted his seemingly charming words and his unexpectedly kind gifts - the gifts of a frustrated husband who married for all the wrong reasons) – could culminate in the largest epic work that the writer has ever felt the confidence to undertake or that the world itself has yet experienced in one thousand or more pages:

It is these extremely tiny details that compose the organic elements of any work of literature or even a small piece of writing, and it is these details that impress the general reader and yet seem obvious to the writer as he or she goes through his or her daily life –

Writers are a unique species.

It is amusing to me when so much time is spent in the laboratory of a classroom attempting to extract the mythological "author's intent" from a novel, trying to read each word with intense care in order to vindicate the severity and oddity of the work:

Did these authors themselves even truly understand?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

In the wake of tragedy…where do we go from here?

I can safely assume that many people across the nation have one thing on their mind: the Connecticut shootings at Sandy Hook elementary.  Over the past many years, we have seen our fair share of mass shootings, but this particular one hits a little too close to home for many.  The shooter (I refuse to utter his name, for the media glorifies killers too often) targeted children…children.  This unthinkable tragedy is so difficult to articulate; there are no words to express how this tragedy affects us all.  When I first heard of this, I was shocked, appalled and disgusted.  11 days until Christmas, a joyous and highly anticipated holiday for many children, a sick individual takes the lives of children and adults without remorse.  Innocence has been taken, not just the children who lost their lives but also those who were witnesses to this event.  They will never recover from this day; their lives are forever changed. 
When tragedies like this occur, we quickly turn from shock to sorrow and finally, to anger.  We so easily want to point a finger at who to blame: the mother of the shooter for having the guns and taking her son out to practice, the media for glorifying killers, the doctors for not always accurately diagnosing mental illness, the violent video games that children are exposed to, the NRA?  We so badly want to blame someone, because that is how many of us are able to cope with a tragedy of this magnitude.  I have chosen not to blame one thing, but to question our society and how is it possible something like this can happen. 
I am not fond of guns, in fact I hate them; I do however understand the need for some people to feel protected by having a gun in their home.  But in this particular case, should parents allow their children access to guns even though they train them on how to shoot?  Did the mother know that her son had a mental illness, one that would lead him to take her guns and execute a mass shooting?  These questions stir an already ongoing debate about guns in the home and a child’s access to them.  Another question bothers me: did the mother know her son had a mental illness, and if so, why would she teach him how to shoot?  There are so many questions that unfortunately will remain unanswered. 
The question that we need to now focus on is how do we prevent this from happening again.  Repealing the second amendment, in my opinion, is nearly impossible.  America is a gun-loving country, in which the second amendment is highly praised.  The NRA is one of the biggest organizations, and going up against them would be a long, arduous fight that will never reach any sort of conclusion.  I think that discussing gun control is not really the issue in this case, for I believe that the real issue is mental illness.  How do we learn the warning signs of mental illness?  How do we distinguish mental illness from a quirky, eccentric personality?  How do we treat mental illness?  Is medication really the answer for treatment or should parents spend money on therapy?  What do we do to help those that are suffering from a mental illness?  What if parents don’t have the means to financially support the costs it would take to treat mental illness?  What then?  I think these are the questions that we must now address.  We need to put political party affiliations aside and come together to find preventative measures that will effectively work to protect innocent people.  Now, I know that violence and crime will continue, but we are now in a time where action must begin.  We cannot sit by and allow tragedies like this to continue.
Having said that, in order to begin change, the right questions must be addressed.  Fighting amongst each other on issues of gun control will not help our situation.  We must get to the core of what is wrong with our society and begin rebuilding a better society in which our children do not fear attending school, or theaters, or malls or any other public place.  I believe we are not completely free, because our freedom has been caged in fear. So many of us are so fearful of stepping out of our homes.  We take a risk each and every time we leave our homes, but should our fears be so heightened that even going to school—a place that should feel safe for students—cause panic and anxiety for students and parents?
This tragedy has shaken this country and others.  We cannot describe the horror of what unfolded at Sandy Hook.  And as if this horrific crime couldn’t be worse, one of the most hated groups in America--the Westboro Church--will be picketing the school and the funerals of the victims.  Luckily, there is a light at the end of this very dark, grim tunnel—many people have decided to come together to create a human shield of love against the Westboro Church.  For more information regarding this, you may visit their Facebook page:  This page also offers an address in which people can send donations and letters of support for the families that lost a loved one. 
In the wake of this tragedy, I think it is clear that evil does exist and that we must, at this time, put our differences behind us and find a way to prevent these tragedies.  As the days go by and we begin to reflect on this tragedy, how do you think we should approach preventative measures?  Is there any hope that we can eventually stop mass shootings and maybe alleviate some of the fears that now plague us?  Should we attack the NRA and demand stricter policies?  Should people be psychologically evaluated before purchasing a gun?  So many questions will continue to be discussed, I can only hope that for once, we will take action and finally do something. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Paragraph Format: Is there a wrong way to write paragraphs?

A couple of weeks ago, I learned about a writing format known as the “Schaffer paragraph” started by Jane Schaffer.  This particular format is taught in schools to help students with formulating a paragraph.  The Schaffer paragraph includes the topic sentence, 1 concrete detail (also known as a fact), 2 commentaries (analyses on the fact) and a conclusion.  Though this format is meant to help students design paragraphs, it limits critical thought and context.  I talked to a student who learned this format, and she informed me that she was taught to write her essays using this paragraph format.  What resulted from using this format is that it didn’t focus on the context of the essay, but rather the individual paragraphs; that is, the essays produced did not have a connected focus. 
This format is only taught in some middle schools and high schools afterwards, in college, it is an undesirable format.  However, from what I have learned, this particular format can sometimes be deeply embedded in the student’s learning that they have trouble letting go of it.  This becomes problematic when a student, who has only learned this format, goes to college and discovers that the way they write is not acceptable in higher education.
I was appalled when I heard about this kind of formatting and the fact that it is still taught.  I feel very lucky for not having been exposed to this kind of technique, yet I worry about students that are taught to write in this manner.  The Schaffer paragraph is also easy for teachers to teach and to grade.  The format is designed in such a way that it makes the grading process simple and from what it seems, linear.  This kind of attitude towards teaching and grading contributes to the lack of critical thought and the coherent flow and focus needed in papers. 
Because I am just learning about this format now, I still have much to learn about the Schaffer paragraph and how it is applied in the classroom.  Has anyone ever learned this format or know anyone that has?  If so, is it helpful?  Does this particular formatting device seem linear, in that it steers away from the context and focus of the entire paper?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Teaching Virtue

Can virtue be taught?  When I look up the word virtue, this is one of the definitions that come up from Wikipedia:

Virtue (Latin: virtus, Ancient Greek: ρετή "arete") is moral excellence. A virtue is a positive trait or quality deemed to be morally good and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being. Personal virtues are characteristics valued as promoting collective and individual greatness.

The definition “moral excellence” baffles me.  What is “moral excellence”?  How can we measure what is moral?  Morality is different for everyone at least that is how the Sophists believe.  I believe this too; so how can we judge what is excellent morally and what is not? 

As I am nearing the end of my History of Rhetoric class, this question of whether virtue can be taught comes up regularly in the readings.  Isocrates believes that virtue couldn’t be taught, but teachers could help students to get close to being virtuous.  Is this true?  I believe that teachers can lay down the fundamentals of virtue, but it’s up to the students to decide to be virtuous or not.

This idea of teaching virtue as a focus during the ancient Greek era is so relevant today.  Many students are being subjected to so many tests that there is little room left for analytical, critical thought.  I believe that if we can come close to teaching virtue or how to be virtuous, it is through critical thought: giving students the skills to think for themselves, therefore gaining the confidence to make good, rational decision on their own.  But with all these tests and teachers focusing their time primarily on testing, are our students getting further away from learning the fundamentals of how to be virtuous?  Is education pulling away from helping our students gain moral and ethical skills through critical thought?  Just some questions I have been pondering over this past quarter…

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Go MOOC Yourself

New York Times has deemed 2012, “The year of the MOOC.”  So what exactly is a MOOC?  The acronym stands for Massive Open Online Courses, and many universities and schools have become very interested in it.  They are online courses for students to take to continue their education.  So what is the difference between the MOOC and other online courses?  MOOC is free, but credit-less classes and apparently it is huge and continues to grow in the academic world.  Students can take courses that are designed like actual courses in a school, but they do not have to pay.  However, if they want the credit for the course they take, they then must pay for it.  The work is also shared amongst the students/participants and the facilitator and everyone can keep the work in the end.  MOOC refers to the course as “participatory,” this sense of engagement with everyone else in the course.  There aren’t any assignments; the courses are more focused on engaging with one another and building up network connections. 
The courses are distributed, meaning that videos, social networks, blogs, etc. are all connected and work together to create this shared network of ideas.

Though MOOCs is becoming more and more popularized within the academic spectrum, the controversy questioning the validity of internet classroom connection compared to face-to-face lectures continues to ensue.  Can online courses be just as effective as face-to-face lectures?  It’s difficult to say considering that I have never taken an online class.  However, I have known people to take online courses and they felt that from them, they learned a great deal.  There is a discipline needed to be maintained in a classroom, however, taking an online course requires a particular different kind of discipline.  Students must keep up with their course, and not succumb to procrastination and laziness.  It is a tough discipline, one that requires a great want and desire to learn and be a part of an online, academic group. 

So, I wonder, is MOOC the next step in education?  Is this the future of education?  So many people do not have the time, money, or drive to attend school, yet they have the thirst for knowledge and to be a part of a larger community in which they can share that knowledge.  MOOC offers that experience and allows for people to be a part of a growing network of shared information. 

As a professional student who is only used to face-to-face interaction and the occasional blogging for specific classes, I find this source of education fascinating and will most likely investigate it more, watching as it continues to flourish.

I am interested to know how you all feel about this growing phenomenon.  Is it a valid source in the educational field?  Will this replace other online courses?  Will it offer the same challenges that regular school courses offer?

Though face-to-face interactive classrooms will continue to be an integral part of our education, MOOC seems to offer an alternative for the accessibility of taking courses online.  It will be interesting to watch as this continues to progress…



Sunday, November 11, 2012

The creative process

Blogging seems to be my only outlet for any sort of creative writing lately.  Since I have been spending the majority of my time studying for my upcoming finals and working on two research papers, I have absolutely no time for anything else. 
Although, I cannot spend time writing creatively, I have been writing a lot due to all my schoolwork and have found that the creative process I used has transferred from fictional writing to discovering a solid thesis for my rhetoric paper.  It is difficult when given a research paper to write, having to come up with a thesis that you find interesting enough to spend the great amount of time researching.  I always thought that when it came to writing a research paper, there was very little room for creative energy.  However, there is a certain creativity that does result from finding a thesis and being able to argue it well. 
The Rhetoric class that I am currently taking has shown me that creativity lies heavily in arguing, whether through orality or literacy.  Even though fictional writing, poetry, etc. requires an artistic approach to the discourse, writing a thesis has its moments of creativity.  My research paper will focus on the rhetorical analysis of war speeches and their effects on the audience.  I came up with this thesis because I have always found an interest in war speeches and how they are used to rouse the audience to either persuade the troops or the citizens. 
The process of creativity for writing my paper relies on the fact that I can argue for the validity of these speeches and their ability to succeed in gaining the support of the audience.  Of course, I would prefer to spend my time writing short stories or poetry, but I surprisingly am excited to begin my paper, to attempt to persuade my audience with the importance of war speeches. 
Creativity in writing is needed for research papers; without it, you are left with a dry, poorly argued paper.  Trying to be creative while writing my paper is not easy; I find that I want to focus more on the flow and pattern of my words rather than the actual argument itself.  But as I continue to research for my paper and discover new facets of rhetoric through war speeches, I realize that creativity is present in my argument.
Creativity does exist outside the fictional world of writing.  Since school has left me without any time to write stories or poems, I am taking advantage of my creative energy in researching and writing my paper…and of course, these blogs.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

One Scribble at a Time

It seems like all I'm talking about these days is schoolwork. It makes sense. It’s consuming my life and will continue to be my main focus until December 5th. Yes, I have the date memorized. I've already started planning what I’m going to do once I’m set free. These daydreams are dangerous, but sometimes I need them to get me through the most taxing assignments.

 Regretfully, I haven’t been doing any creative writing. In place of actual poems I have scraps of paper with strange scribbles and random rushed thoughts. As I was cleaning, I found all sorts of note cards,  old receipts, and paper bag remnants with single words or phrases scrawled in barely legible pencil (it’s my preferred writing implement). I've now relegated my scraps to a bucket. But I’m awfully concerned that when I try to go through the bucket and draw some inspiration from my disjointed thoughts I will have completely lost access to that fleeting spark. Another thing I've started doing is writing passing thoughts on the notepad on my Iphone. I know…pretty gross.

I've always favored the organic process of writing by hand, but out of convenience, or survival, I'm resorting to technology. It’s creating a self-conflicting disgust. On the one hand I don’t want to stop writing completely. On the other hand I feel silly. I feel like my words mean less.There is just something about looking at your words on a miniature glowing screen with a yellow notepad background that is absurd.

What I want to know is what method do you use for writing? Do you notice a difference in the quality of your work when you switch from typing to handwriting? It will be interesting once the quarter is over to return to my scrap bucket and see if those ideas have been incubating in the recesses of my mind, or if they were merely superficial flights of fancy. I'll be sure to fill you in and continue cataloging my strange move to the fast-paced world of technology.  Or I may drop out of college, retreat to a cave, and start chiseling all of my poetry.