Several Layers of Writing about Writing. About Writing

Link: https://medium.com/bereavement-and-mourning/2f7a2f1dc473

Description:

“Telling a Story of Stillbirth: Accepting the Limits of Narrative” is my way of grappling with the discomfort I felt when I found out that my collection of essays, They Were Still Born: Personal Stories about Stillbirth, would come out in paperback this summer. I realized that, along with excitement and gratitude, I felt a startling dismay. I set three goals in writing and publishing my digital essay: first to work through my own ambivalence and to puzzle through why I found the story I had worked so hard to get into print troubling now; second to give voice to the way that grief and narrative changes over time; and third (probably the least important) to use a different platform to help publicize my collection and reach new readers.

medium front page

Process:

I began by writing some reflective vignettes. They came out in whatever form they wanted to. When I reached the end of one, I would just hit enter a couple of times and start something else. Of course, I can do that ad nauseam (and judging by the number of people who visited my essay on [Medium] only to flee when they saw an estimated reading time of 14 minutes, perhaps my final version is still too long!). But when I had a few thousand words, I stopped and starting trying to find the threads to weave together into a coherent whole.

I took the essay through four distinct drafts. Several chunks from my earliest drafting did end up in the final version. The hardest part was deciding how to navigate the disjointedness of writing about writing about loss. I wanted my readers to experience some discomfort, but I didn’t want it to be so much that they were completely thrown off.

Then the question arose of platform. I put the entire essay draft up on a wordpress site I created for general book promotion. But it didn’t work there, and visually it was too long of an unbroken stream of text. My peer group suggested putting it on its own site and then just linking as needed.

Finally, I ended up publishing the essay on Medium because I loved the simple, clean aesthetics of the site, and I also wanted the ability to add it to various collections on the site.

Medium screenshot 2

Affordances and Constraints:

Writing my essay online and on Medium specifically offered the ability to link,  to promote my work in a community, and to revisit and revise it later. I like the way the whole essay looks and reads. It’s like a beautiful, very pared-down magazine.

Interesting constraints came up when I tried to embed links in the essay. Medium’s simplicity does come at a cost; it was not possible, as it is in WordPress, to set links to open in a new tab or new page. So anytime a reader clicked on a link, it would take him or her away from my essay. I ultimately decided, rather than risking the loss of readers, I would place asterisks and then have a “links” section at the bottom of the piece.

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The Badness Catalog

TBC Screenshot
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Description:

The Badness Catalog is a hybrid digital essay and ongoing project (more on that in “Affordances”). The project argues, in essence, that writing on the internet, and particularly writing that at first appears to be “bad” (unconventional, grammatically erroneous, et cetera) is actually performing serious discursive work, and often takes on a deeper, symbolic meaning than its obvious features. In short, The Badness Catalog argues that meme-phrases (things like “I can’t even”) point to deeper meanings, often unique to life on the internet. Instead of reading them as degenerate writing performances (basically, instead of disciplining them as bad performances), we might read them as deliberate rhetorical or discursive choices, indicating a specific phenomenon or signaling membership in an online community. The Catalog takes a serious, but often humorous, look at these phrases and tries to illustrate how they can be used.

Process:

In my head, I began with my impatience for “Grammar Nazis” on the internet–particularly when those lexical fascists are so fixated on a prescriptivist use of the language that they ignore that new meaning is made in “mistakes” (also, incidentally, I was frustrated by how frequently incorrect the Grammar Nazis were). So I rallied to the defense of these “bad” phrases, because in using several of them, I began to realize they serve an important function–they often describe phenomena that are the result of life on the internet, like “I can’t even”‘s breathlessly dorky enthusiasm, or the flat, perhaps sardonic tonality expressed by a lack of punctuation in certain contexts. I drafted a brief manifesto (originally entitled “The Mission”) and began writing posts. I didn’t necessarily want people to read this in a linear fashion, especially since I fully intend on adding new posts frequently, compiling a sort of menagerie of internet phrases and the phenomena they signify.

In a strange way, I knew the politics of the mission before I really had people or scholars in mind. The site acts as a sort of public pedagogy–a resistance to prescriptivist grammarians and those who imagine a literacy crisis. It took quite a bit of soul-and-hard drive searching before I traced the genealogy of my sentiments back to an interaction between Min-Zhan Lu and a bunch of other comp/rhet scholars and my cultural-studies/postcolonial training, and so I re-wrote my mission statement (now the “Why Do This?” page) to be the scholarly manifesto of my project. The “What Is This?” page is the general population explanation, the PR release–the “Why Do This” page is the scholarly heart of the matter.

Incidentally, I coined what I thought was a new term, “multiliteracy,” but it turns out other scholars beat me to it–and thankfully, they meant almost exactly the same thing I did.

Affordances and Constraints:

Because I’m not exactly a pro at web design, I had to settle for a pre-made WordPress theme–and it’s a wonderful theme, but it imposes a bit of a linear structure on a nonlinear idea. Ultimately, I had to make certain affordance choices in order to present The Catalog as something that continues on–it’s not a one-off WordPress site, but an ongoing project. This meant that I had to really emphasize the new content, which meant moving the manifesto off the front page, since repeat readers don’t need to see that every time. But, at the same time, I didn’t want to hide it from new visitors–hence my constant anxiety about “Why Do This?”, which got moved, renamed, and rewritten half a dozen times, with infinite thanks to the Woodchucks for reading it more than once.

Right now, the biggest constraint I have is organizing my project according to the theme WordPress gives me, which means there’s a way of thinking built in to the site. I’m big on multiliteracy, and so that made me “have a sad,” to quote the LOLcat.

Not to mention the fact that I can’t change the font size. I kid you not.

My face when I couldn't change the font size.
My face when I couldn’t change the font size.

What this form was wonderful with doing was treating and maintaining images–the format is .gif friendly, displays header images on posts without those images having to be in the post, and there’s not a lot of aggressive graphic design interfering with the presentation of the images. Embedding html elements gets a little wobbly, but WordPress and the theme I chose clings happily to practically anything visual. The form also allows a banner menu, footer elements (for categories) and categorical reorganization–meaning the reader can screen posts by category easily, helping with the whole nonlinear thing.

URL: http://badnesscatalog.wordpress.com/

Tweetku: a Digital Essay

Tweetku Logo

Link: tweetkudigitalessay.wordpress.com

Description:
My digital essay attempts to do three things: to consider the relationship between Twitter and poetry, to create a framework for understanding how Twitter communities function, and to tell the story of @TheTweetku and #tweetku. All of these ideas come together in my essay as a consideration of what value Twitter offers to contemporary digital writers and writing communities.

Process:
I began with a personal quest in @TheTweetku to popularize the term “tweetku” and to join what poetry and haiku communities already existed on Twitter. As I began to develop this identity into my digital essay, I did background research on Twitter in general and then in its use for community-building, especially through hashtags, specifically. At the same time, my journeys through Twitter’s #haiku communities led me to a growing micropoetry movement that had found purchase on the social media site. I decided to organize my essay around these two concepts in order to contextualize my personal experience with @TheTweetku and give a useful framework for analyzing the #tweetku community.

Though the writing process itself was particularly slow-going for me, I relied quite a bit on the feedback on my classmates through the pre-writing stage and revisions of partial drafts.

Affordances and Constraints:
Practically speaking, using WordPress allowed me to embed tweets easily, which I never would have been able to do in print and especially not with the interactive functionality.  I was also able to write in a more immediately accessible voice, aided by links to more blogs, websites, and newspaper articles than printed scholarly work.

Most of the difficult issues came with attempting to translate my traditional idea of an essay into digital terms. Organization was one area in particular that I struggled with as I tried to negotiate linearity and transitions between pages in my digital essay. The same is true of citations, although I actually had a lot of fun figuring out digital equivalents to in-text citations.

 

Tashirojima-Cat Island

The link of my digital essay Museum in the Future: http://cldigital685.wordpress.com/

Noticed Katie changed her website background page from a picture filled with lovely cats to a more philosophical image (to suit better to her digital essay’s theme), I would like to stretch the topic of “cat” a bit more from a fresh angle (which is not directly connected with “Writing” or “Digital” theme, but all thanks to the world-wide web that I am able to access those adorable cat pictures).

Long time people around the world have picked up Japanese love cats: 招き猫, Hello Kitty, cat cafes (I went to one in Tokyo, very pinky soft and relaxing, highly recommend) and cat accessories and cat mascots all over the streets. But there is one spot in Japan called Cat Island, where the cats are outnumber the humans.

The Cat Island, 田代島(たしろじま) or Tashirojima in pronunciation, lies off the west coast of Japan. The island has a history of silk farming and originally cats were brought onto the island to keep mice out of the silk farms. While now the silk farms are largely gone, the long existed creature, cat, never ceased to popularize its species.

Tashirojima isn’t a large island, currently it has the population of less than 100, with most working in fishing tradition. In these past years, the island has become a place of tourist interest, thanks to the cats, with many visiting to take a look for themselves of this village where cats are outnumber humans. The local governance believes feeding cats bring good fortune, so even the cats are strays, every household keeps them well fed and checked up on to be healthy.

The saying always goes that cats and dogs can’t keep best terms with each other. Not surprisingly, if a visitor is thinking of coming with the pet dog, he or she probably has to give up the plan and be prepared to leave the poor puppy at the dock on the mainland. The regulations of the island prohibited any dogs to be on the dock, and there aren’t any dogs in local households either.

This website,

Tashirojima, Cat Island
Tashirojima, Cat Island

http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/tashirojima –has a whole gallery of cats.

Amusingplanet.com specially showed gorgeous photographs of the cats and the island, recounting its history and current population.Capture009

Dailymail.co.uk (click the image) gathered very neatly written captions for each image of the island:

Capture003

This tiny island has quite developed service industry for tourists and abundant offers for amenities. Any cat lovers who would like to enjoy the company of a furry feline, or just want to see these cuddly creature strolling on their paradise home Tashirojima, can consider to take a trip during this summer break for a treat!

Finding Even Ground: Tutoring Multimodal Texts in the Writing Center

 

OVERVIEW: In this video, I explore how multimodal texts affect writing center tutoring pedagogy. Incorporating interviews with both teachers and tutors, I challenge the notion of “traditional” texts and argue for a genre based understanding of multimodal assignments. This project grew out of my experiences working within a writing center, both as a tutor and as an administrator. And while my own experiences led to my interest in the topic, the interviews that I conducted for the video really shaped my argument and the project as a whole. Through talking to other people about their experiences working with multimodal texts, I was able to gain a better understanding of both what the problems were and what we could do to help fix them.

TutorComputerPROCESS: Because I’ve never created a video of this length before, a large part of the process was acclimating myself to the form.  I began the process by conducting the interviews, because I really wanted these to help guide my thinking. After they were done, I wrote the script that would fill in the space around them. I then created (very) rough storyboards to try and figure out how I wanted it to all fit together. Finally, I started making the actual video itself, which proved to be incredibly recursive. Every element that you see in the final version was done at least 2 or 3 times, some of them many more.

AFFORDANCES: The greatest affordance of this medium was being able to fully incorporate other voices. While collaboration is important in all work, I feel like it is particularly crucial to writing center studies. By weaving interviews into my own essay–and by having people actually speak for themselves–I think that the video form better captures the collaborative nature of my work than a print essay ever could have done. I also think that the video form will make this essay more digestible/shareable in the future. As many of you know, writing center tutor training often involves watching short videos, and I could see this video easily being incorporated into that training format.

CONSTRAINTS: The biggest constraint was balancing out images and words. It was hard to find a balance between not being too literal with the images yet still remaining on topic and useful. Similarly, linking images and sounds were difficult because I wanted to make sure that the images were helping guide my argument, but I didn’t want the video too become too cluttered or too busy that it would detract from the words that I was saying

 

Betty Who?: Social Media and the Construction of New Pop Celebrities

Link to project: Somebody loves this.

Overview: The basic premise of my digital essay is to explore the intersection of social media (specifically YouTube and Twitter) and proto-celebrities—those artists that are still relatively unknown but who already have a well-established, committed fanbase and the talent necessary to be “the next big thing.” On a more analytical/theoretical level, my digital essay explores how fans use social media and engage in digital participatory culture to construct celebrities from the bottom up—how we interpret, synthesize, produce, and disseminate texts, images, and meanings that surround our proto-celebrities of choice. I use Australian-born singer Betty Who as a case study to highlight how the digital mechanisms of participatory culture actually work by providing a close-reading of two specific online events related to her music: the viral video “Spencer’s Home Depot Marriage Proposal,” which features Betty’s debut single “Somebody Loves You,” and the release of her second EP Slow Dancing because of how her fans—the “Who Crew”—reacted to it on Twitter.

Process: This project developed, unlike some of the more “traditional” essays I’ve written as a graduate student, out of my passion for pop music, which I always thought didn’t have much of a place in the academy. I first began by collecting and synthesizing a wealth of scholarship that proved quite the opposite: that popular culture could very much be a valuable source of inquiry. The second part of my essay, entitled “Convergence Culture and Redefining Fandom” is essentially my trying to work through all of that source material and to create a theoretical framework.

Moreover, unlike most of the other essays I’ve written, the peer review process had a considerable impact on how I drafted and revised this project. Having to go through multiple peer review sessions forced me to take a more proactive approach with my writing process, whereas I normally would have left most of the drafting until very near to the final deadline.

Affordances: Although I would like to think that most of my digital essay could easily translate into a more traditional form(at), the fourth part entitled “The Twittersphere and the Who Crew” would not because of its reliance on the use of embedded tweets. By embedding those tweets into the body of the post, they become a much more participatory aspect of the essay, in that they provide important visual and verbal cues as well as enable readers to actively form a network between my blog and Twitter with a simple click, like so:

If I were to have written part four in a Word document, I would have had to reduce these tweets to static screen shots or worse, to summarize their content, neither of which would have had the same rhetorical impact.

Constraints: The one aspect of this project that I struggled with the most was, as Naghmeh aptly called it, its “digital flexibility.” I knew that a blog could be multimodal very easily, but I wasn’t sure how to achieve such multimodality without it looking contrived. In a way, then, I became overwhelmed by the sheer amount of the web’s affordances, feeling like I needed to include as many of them as I could. But as the “final” version of my digital essay shows, I decided to use multimodality sparingly and to concentrate it mainly in my case study of Betty Who, which I felt was the place that needed it the most (rhetorically speaking).

After reflecting on my digital essay in this post, I want to try to offer some semblance of an answer to Joe’s question, “What changes when you write for the screen rather than the page?” As I stated above, I believe that writing for the screen enables us as writers to create projects that have a liveliness to them that writings for the page do not. Likewise, we can more (pro)actively create a network among our projects and the work of other scholars, bloggers, users, etc., in a digital environment, whereas simply citing or quoting in a static essay cannot or does not.

But I also don’t think that everything has to/does change when we write for the screen rather than the page, that we don’t have to adopt huge fundamental changes just to “fit in” with digital aesthetics and values, or to “look cool” as if we “get” what everyone is trying to do. To me, that feels incredibly disingenuous. We can write as academics on the web and use very few of its affordances (as I showed with Henry Jenkins’ blog in my post last week), or we can choose to be more conversational and creative—something I think Tumblr is really great for; it all depends on what each of us is comfortable with. And if a work is sound (read: effective, compelling), then why should it have to include multimedia just to grab our attention if that media isn’t going to add anything?

I’d like to conclude my post with the official music video for Betty Who’s song “Somebody Loves You.” It not only feels more apropos, given the subject of my digital essay, but watching it will also (hopefully) give you all a feel for who Betty Who is as we anticipate our arcade on Friday.

Digital essay, final draft

A few notes on the final version of your digital essay:

  • The final version of your essay is due on Thurs, 5/15, at 11:59 pm. You will present this piece in class on Fri, 5/16. Disregard all other deadlines and notices.
  • The final, final version of your essay is due on Tues, 5/20, at 11:59 pm. That is, if you want to make some changes to your piece after presenting it in class, you may. I will start grading on Wed, 5/21.
  • Creative Commons: You must license your work with Creative Commons.
  • Acknowledgments: A generous and witty note of acknowledgements is the sign of a strong writer. You must find some space in your piece where you thank the people who have helped you conceptualize, draft, and revise it.

You guys are doing amazing work. I look forward to reading it in its final version.

Harris | UD | Spring 2014