On Grad School; or, This is an Assignment

Note to regular readers: feel free to ignore this post. This is part of an assignment for one of my courses. If, however, you feel like reading about multimodal composing, by all means feel free to peruse.
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THE WEB OF MULTIMODAL COMPOSING: AN EXERCISE IN ORIGAMI

In generations past, writing was a name given to alphabetic text that utilized language to communicate an idea. In a certain sense, this remains true today, although the parameters are not nearly so exclusive. That is, “writing” in the past was used to describe academic essays, poems, novels, and the like. Good writing was writing which cohered to accepted fundamental standards, such as grammar and syntax. A skilled writer in any one discipline could perhaps be expected to be skilled in another. For example, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound both found success as poets as well as essayists. However, in our present generation of growing technology-dependence and digital media, the definition of writing is ever-shifting and ever-growing. We have reached a state where “writing” is no longer a term we can place neatly in a box. While writing is still used to communicate an idea (or thought or emotion or event or so on and so forth), it is no longer dependent on alphabetic text alone. In fact, at this point in time, writing can encompass various other media as often as text, whether printed or digital.

Kathleen Blake Yancey states in her essay “Made Not Only in Words: Composition in a New Key” that we (read: the writing community) are having a moment. “This moment right now,” she says, “is like none other.” To put it another way, writing has become an umbrella term that we use to cover a wide variety of discourses, topics, genres and modalities. Some of these areas may include, but are not limited to, academic essays, short works of fiction, poetry, emails, text messages, photography, film, novels, letters, and so forth, in both printed and digital formats. There are cases wherein a composition may be made without any alphabetic text at all, yet which still communicates meaning. Take for example an image or a film: neither contains alphabetic text, and yet the audience or viewer still walks away with an understanding of the subject matter.

In “Kairos and Multimodal Public Rhetoric,” authors Sheridan, Ridolfo, and Michel discuss multimodal composition as a web representing what they term “articulation points,” which include but are not limited to exigency, genres, media of delivery, modes, media of reproduction and distribution, audience, rhetor, collaborators, and other compositions. (see image below)

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These various factors contribute not only to the composition itself, but also to the process of composing as well as what comes after the composition is “finished.” Note that none of these articulation points include alphabetic text as a necessary component in composition. Quite the opposite, the web uses terminology such as “modes” and “genres,” which are inclusive of alphabetic text as well as modes such as image and video. I believe that this web can be used to draw a distinction between the act of writing and the act of composing.

Consider this: in a broad sense, writing is language-based communication. Thus, are “writing” and “composing” the same thing? Perhaps not. A musician can compose a symphony. Journalists can compose news articles. Photographers can compose and produce image-based essays. That the English language uses the same word to describe a creation which can be enacted by each of these disciplines indicates the multimodal uses of composition and, by extension, writing. Alphabetic text, while critical in the traditional idea of the written word, is no longer the limiting factor for what constitutes composition today. Then, if we accept this premise, what is writing? What is composing? They are forms of communication, ways to transfer ideas, thoughts, or experiences of a certain weight and/or importance.

Furthermore, they are exercises in meaning. What do I mean by this? Composing, rather than being limited to one genre of alphabetic text, can seek to communicate or illuminate an idea through many different kinds of discourse and medium. As an exercise in multimodal composition, I wanted to expand on the idea of the web as a way to consider composition. The concept of the web or map put me in mind of interlocking prisms, such as the one found below (credit to Daniel Kwan).

Explaining what constitutes composition through alphabetic text presents certain challenges; the English language is limited in what we can and cannot describe. I found the image of the web and the interlocking prisms to create a much more clear picture of what composing can constitute. Consider that each prism represents a different factor in composition. One may represent alphabetic text, another may represent music, a third image, and so forth. As such, I decided to try my hand at creating interlocking origami. My attempts are documented in the images below. The model I was attempting to mimic can be found here.

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Bonus image: Alice tries to help.

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I was astounded at how difficult it was to arrange these pieces of paper into one cohesive unit. They each appeared so similar, and yet they each had a separate role to play in holding the composition together. Like composing itself, each piece helped to hold the others up, and yet getting them to that point required great skill and concentration. Despite many attempts, I do not believe I have yet been successful in creating a satisfactory origami eight-point star. In a way, this mirrors the difficulty in teaching and understanding composition. Is there truly a way to teach and understand all forms of composition? Perhaps not. Perhaps what we as teachers should do is provide the necessary tools for students to discover the various ways of composition for themselves. Yet what constitutes these tools? How do we decide on what the foundational building blocks of composition are?

For all intents and purposes, beginning with fundamentals is imperative. One needs to understand what tools are at one’s disposal and how they work before attempting to use them. How do we decide which tools to teach? David Smit proposed “syntactic fluency” and “rhetorical maturity” in his book The End of Composition Studies. Are these the limits to those cornerstone tools? They cannot be, if we accept the premise that composing is not limited to alphabetic text. As instructors of composition, should we not also teach those ideas theorized in Sheridan, Ridolfo, and Michel’s web? If we make it possible for students to access as many modes of composition as possible, then we will have equipped them with the tools they can use to tackle the purpose of composition.

What do I mean by this? In all genres, we face the “perhaps” and the “if so” and the “then what’s” as well as they “how’s” and “why’s.” Traditionally, fundamental standards of writing (i.e., compositional skills) have been the telescope and microphone through which we witness and reveal the cosmos. In contemporary composition, however, the genres and modes through which we seek to examine the ” how’s” and the “why’s” have increased to allow further creativity of composition. As such, in addition to teach basic “writing” skills, such as alphabetic text, sentence structure, grammar, and Smit’s syntactical fluency and rhetorical maturity, we should also seek to teach how these skills can interact with other modes. That is, we should give students the opportunity to discover composing through image, video, music, and more. Through combining several modes or genres, we will allow students to discover for themselves which “how-to’s” create the most effective answers or examinations of their “what’s” and “how’s” and “why’s.” Perhaps it is less important that the questions are answered and more important that the composer discovers something in the process of seeking them.

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If She’s Not Having Fun You Have To Stop

This is about the nuts-and-bolts of how the work gets done. This is about parenting the next generation.

A boy and a girl run around on the grass at the park. The boy tackles the girl. The girl laughs. She gets up and runs away. She loves to run. He chases, she turns and they grab eachother, tumble and land in a pile, giggling. After a few minutes, he tackles her again and she lands a bit hard. She is bigger and physical, but he more than holds his own in roughhousing. She pauses for a second. Then she laughs again; she’s still having fun.

Dad gets his attention, and says, “If she’s not having fun, you have to stop.”

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I’m Back!; or, It’s Been FIVE MONTHS Since My Last Original Post!!!!

You guys. YOU GUYS. I haven’t posted original content in ALMOST FIVE MONTHS. I HAVE BEEN ABSENT FROM MY BLOG FOR FIVE. FREAKING. MONTHS. Whaaaaa??

When I first started this blog a little over a year ago, I wanted to sort through my own mercurial thoughts and opinions, rant over injustice, and see what other people had to think and say. I have been sadly absent in recent months, and I miss writing here. Life is a thing that happens, though, and unfortunately this blog was something I let slip in the past, oh, half a year or so.

I graduated college. I got a big-kid job. I got into grad school. I got a baby nephew. I got back into therapy and back on meds. I got a new diagnosis. I got a kitten. It’s been busy. It’s been stressful. It’s been upsetting. It’s been distressing. I don’t know what I’m doing. I still struggle daily with the repercussions of my psychological disorder. A few days ago I was in a really, really bad place, mentally and emotionally. Today is a little better. Today, I want to get back to talking about the things that matter so much to me: gender equality, women’s rights, the importance of discussing societal norms and breaking stereotypes, all that good stuff.

I have not been absent in thinking about all of these things. I have been thinking about gay marriage. I have been thinking about the Supreme Court’s decision in regards to Hobby Lobby. I have been thinking about persistent problems within the patriarchy. I have been thinking about language and the way our language shapes how we treat and see others. I have been thinking about sexuality. I have been thinking about religion, and politics, and pressure, and pretty much all of the same things I think about all the time anyway.

But I haven’t taken the time to write about any of this stuff. Why? Because I’ve been tired, or depressed, or stressed, or busy, or just plain lazy. I have started to write several posts and then stopped. I have lost confidence. I have wondered why I bother with this at all. I have to remind myself why I started this at all- to sort through my own thoughts. To figure this life thing out. To read and follow other amazing bloggers and maybe, maybe, if I’m lucky, touch one person’s life. I don’t know.

I’m trying, you guys. HopefullY I’ll be posting a lot more in the future. There’s a lot coming up in my life still (I’m moving to Chicago in three weeks!!) but hopefully I will be able to manage my time more adequately and allow myself the freedom to come write here about the things I’m passionate about and the issues I want to see change.

As always, if you’ve taken the time to read my ramblings, thank you. Keep an eye out for new (and hopefully not boring) content in the near future.

Fuck “Sexy”

The Belle Jar

Sometimes I feel like I want to ban the word sexy. Like, take that shit out of the dictionary and impose a fine whenever someone uses it.

Which is pretty funny because I’m super sex-positive and I definitely want people to feel good about their bodies and secure in their sexuality, however it manifests itself.

But man am I ever fucking tired of how we use that word to shame girls and sell them on a bunch of gross patriarchal ideas about how they should be.

Take this picture, which was tweeted/posted by Floyd Mayweather and has been making the rounds over the past few days:

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Like, first of all, this is a dude who has been charged with two counts of domestic violence. Why would anybody think that what he has to say about women is even a little bit valid? I am not really down with anyone…

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Beauty Standards Are Bullshit

The Belle Jar

You’ve probably heard that Marilyn Monroe was a size 14.

Or a size 16, or a size 12, or a size 10, depending on who you ask.

Whatever number someone quotes you, the message is always the same: our standards of beauty have changed, and not for the better. The women whose bodies we worship now are thin and sickly, all of them suffering from eating disorders. Things aren’t how they were before, when we appreciated “real,” “normal,” “average” bodies. Our current standards of beauty should serve as evidence of how deeply fucked up our society is; we ought to return to our parents’ and grandparents’ ideals.

This whole concept is so popular that there have been a string of memes made about it:

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You know what makes me say fuck society? The fact that we think it’s totally cool to compare two women and declare one of them the…

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Things My World Tells Me

Sometimes, I get busy thinking and then my head gets really buzzy and I can’t fall asleep and I can tell my insomnia’s kicking in and it’s going to be a long night.

I was thinking about objectification, and that started a veritable fountain of ever-darkening thoughts, until my body was so tense it made my muscles ache and I was biting my tongue to keep from screaming. I began crumbling under a thousand pressures, a thousand voices, each telling me how I needed to be, what I needed to do, what I should look like, talk like, act like, that I would always be too much, that I would never be enough.

How does one compete with all of that?

My world tells me I’m worthwhile only insofar as other people find me appealing, find me attractive. To find my worth, my world tells me, I must dress such-and-such a way, but never dress that way. I should wear yoga pants and low-cut shirts, but I must be okay with the demeaning labels that go along with those things. I should cover up my body, I should show off my body. I will be criticized and told I am doing the wrong thing no matter what I do. Yoga pants make me a slut. An oversize sweater and baggy pants makes me a prude, or a dude. I am supposed to claim my individuality, but only within the parameters my world sets. I shouldn’t make myself up, but a lack of makeup also indicates a lack of polish and poise. I should be thin, but I can be called a “skinny bitch” for being thin. I should be thin, but I should have curves. I should have an ample chest and an attractive ass. My skin should be flawless. God forbid my hair be anything less than magazine-glossy. My teeth should be perfectly straight and white. “Be proud of who you are!” but only do that by meeting IMPOSSIBLE beauty standards. There are perfect women on every television screen, in every magazine, plastered all over the internet. They are airbrushed and photoshopped to nearly-alien levels of beauty and perfection. Why don’t you look like that, the world tells me. This is what you should be. What are you doing wrong?

How does one compete with all of that?

My work ethic is of little consequence. My intelligence is overlooked, ignored, denied. I am blonde, so of course anything I say or think is unimportant. Worse, my degrees are in English and theatre. There’s no way she’s smart, not with those degrees. If I had studied chemistry, which I had considered, I would be faced with stereotypes on the other end of the spectrum. She’s a woman, so her chemistry degree is worth less. She didn’t do the same work, oh no, because she’s a woman. She can’t be that smart. My IQ places me firmly in the upper extremes of intellect. This is of little importance to my world. You, my world tells me, are prettier with your mouth closed. This should matter because it is most important that I look my prettiest at all times.

My worth lies in my appearance, my attractiveness to others. I should be perpetually sexually available, I should never say no, should never turn anyone down (because if I do, I’m doing it purposely to injure someone else’s self-esteem and not out of my own autonomous desire not to be intimate with that person)…but God forbid I ever enjoy sex. What a slut. I should be virginal, because men don’t like experienced women…but, the world reminds me, as if I had forgotten, you must always be sexually available. What a tease. All women are less-than. You exist, my world tells me, for the pleasure of others. You do not exist for yourself.

My feelings are incorrect. I am wrong, always. When my reactions are not the desired reactions, when my thoughts or emotions are inconvenient to another, it is because I am wrong. I made a mistake. I am overreacting. I am being irrational. I am being crazy. It is your fault, after all, the world says, because who told you that you were entitled to feel anything other than how we tell you to feel?

I should find a good man and settle down. Good luck, the world says, because men will only want you if you can achieve everything we’ve discussed above. You must be perfect. You must be both sides of the coin. You must be a paradox.

I should have children. My worth in life, once my physical attractiveness blanches, is based on bringing other beings into the world. It will be found only in a thankless life as a mother. If I do not have children, I will neither be a real adult, nor a real woman. My life is not my own.

How does one compete with all of that?

My world tells me I will never be enough, and I will always be too much. You are less-than, it reminds me. Less than perfect, less than the men around you, less than the other women around you, less than human.

Well then, I tell my world, raising the middle fingers on both hands, I will make a better world.