Posts Tagged ‘ blog ’

A Compendium of My Freewrites in December 2014

“My medium is words, sentences, paragraphs. And the same rules of good art apply to them there as they do to anything else.”   -December 20, 2014

Introduction

On YouTube, Adam Savage, one of the MythBusters, has a channel in which he does what he calls One-Day Builds. These videos compress around eight hours of Adam working on a single project into a 30-minute or so video. I love these videos because, as a writing teacher, I love watching the creation process regardless of what people are creating. Every time I watch one of these videos I am inspired to create something myself.

This, here, is an attempt to do that same thing, to build something in one day, but with words.

Adam Savage

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My New Hat and the Emotional Baggage it Comes With

I just bought a hat to cover up my progressively widening and elongating forehead.

hat

The thing is though, it took me about a year to finally decide what kind of hat to buy.

See, I have this thing against advertising for stuff on my body: I don’t wear anything that has the brand name prominently displayed; I don’t wear novelty t-shirts; I don’t wear anything with a sports team, or band name; etc. I just don’t like anything enough to wear it around all day, or to try to inspire other people to want to like it to. I think I hate aligning myself with any one particular group, or using my clothing to make arguments about who I am and where I belong.

I think the other thing that I hate about turning myself into a billboard is that inevitably, someone will make a comment about it.

There are two things that freak me out about this prospect. The first is that I will have to have a conversation about it; except it won’t be a conversation, it will be a non-conversation that goes something this:

Some dude: Hey, I saw your shirt. Cool. I’m a big fan of X.
Me: Yeah.
(Ten seconds of awkward silence)

These kinds of interactions turn my guts around. I don’t know what to say, the other person doesn’t know what to say. The entire point of the interaction is to acknowledge that we both have positive feelings toward whatever thing is on my shirt or hat, which is something that I (sorry world) just don’t really care about. I already feel the tiny little marxist angel on my shoulder telling me how terribly consumerist and empty it is for me to be wearing it in the first place, and now I have to openly acknowledge to another person that we both share this dark ugly thing where we define ourselves by material possessions that make reference to other material possessions. Eep.

I can’t stand those conversations. (I think it has something to do with being a blue personality and desiring intimacy above all else. And these conversations are the opposite of intimacy; they are sharing time and space with a person that I will most likely never connect with.)

The second thing, is that I feel like, by wearing the name of something on me, I have to be willing at all times to advocate for that thing, like I’m some prosecutor doing my dangdest to defend that band Y really does make the best music in the world, or brand Z is better than it’s competitor. Or if not that, that I really am a member of whatever group pertains to the thing I am wearing.

When I was a sophomore in high school, my brother bought the latest Method Man cassette Tical 2000: Judgement Day, and, when he left it in the car, I would listen to it, a lot. One day, I went into Hot Topic and found a Johnny Blaze (AKA Method Man) hat on sale, and I liked it, and I had the expendable cash. So I bought it and put it on right away. Ten minutes later I was at Sbarro ordering a slice of cheese pizza, and the guy serving me, a black guy, looked at me with disgust, and said, “What you know about Johnny Blaze?” and then slid me my cardboard pizza slice carrier across the sneeze guard.

I say, “Uh, oh, I uh, I like him,” and feel white and excluded because of my whiteness, probably for the first time.

That moment did something to me that I still wear deep inside. My failure to belong to the group I was advertising for, and the failure to defend my belonging to the group, on top of the shock of being forced to defend my belonging, left a mark on me.

So now it’s really hard for me to buy a hat, even though I am getting balder by the minute.

I finally decided on a baseball cap because it seems the most forgettable to others, and it’s an ASU cap because I didn’t like blank baseball hats, and I go to and teach at ASU, so my belonging there is pretty undeniable.

Sheesh. I think there are people out there that can just buy a hat. How do they do that?

Having Kids is the Worst Thing to do With Your Life Aside from Everything Else

I am attempting to write this at home with my life happening all around me. I have put a coffee table up on my bed to act as a standing desk because I don’t have an actual desk that is mine in our little two bedroom house we rent. I just listened to one of my sons give me an inventory of his toys that he has decided to store in one of my dress socks. Before that, I changed a diaper on a seven-month-old with diaper rash who looked at me as I changed him like I was jamming needles under his fingernails. I am a family man. I am a 30-year-old PhD student with a wife and three kids. 

On top of making it harder to write a blog post, deciding to have kids as young as we did has made my wife and I part of a steadily shrinking minority: young married adults who are fairly highly-educated and who actually chose to have children on purpose. The secretaries at the doctor’s offices we visit look at us askance when they find out that yes, I, the man who is here to support the woman and children, am the legal husband, and, yes, I really am the father of all three children, and, no, I don’t have drug problems and, no, I do not pay child support to any other family. Just by being who I am, I have caused a few women named Kathie to do a double take. I am like a giraffe with two necks and heads or something because I am clean and educated, and love my wife and kids enough to go with them to the doctor. 

Now, this is the place where some people will moan and gripe because the good ol’ days when men and women knew their duty and got married and had kids because that’s just whatcha did are long past and our whole country is feeling the tingling warmth of hell fire because of it, but that’s not what I am going to do. Sure, the minority that I belong to used to be the majority. If I had been born thirty years before I was actually born, I would be a baby boomer, and my life would look similar to most of the people around me. But now, especially being an academic, I am one of very few. My closest colleague with children of similar ages to my kids at the last university I attended was my thesis adviser, a man fifteen-ish years older than me. But I am not going to say that because everyone else hasn’t made the same choices as me society as a whole is going to collapse.   

Sure, all sorts of “evidence” exists to show us that our decision to have kids was a mistake. We aren’t financially stable; we don’t have everything planned out; we haven’t always been able to buy birthday and Christmas presents every year; there’s a good chance I’ll still be paying off students loans while my kids are going to high school; I have “given up” on a lot of “dreams” (really just made smarter safer choices) because I have a family that I have to take care of. I have lost out on a lot. 

But I’ve gained a lot too. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go tuck my kids in bed and read to them before grading a stack of papers into the darkness of night. 

What brand of writer am I? What brand of reader am I asking you to be?

As I sat here spewing out words trying to figure out what to write today, I discovered I have at least three distinct voices that I switch among as I write. These “voices,” which really come down to subtle shifts in word choice and stylistic differences, are mutually exclusive: they don’t mix and they don’t blend. I only write in one at a time, but I can switch among them many times in a piece of writing, and sometimes even schizophrenically within sentences.

As a rhetorician, I know that these constant shifts in voice mostly happen because I am constantly changing who I envision my audience to be. I don’t know who is going to read this (if anyone), and I don’t know what you the reader (if you are there) wants most from me. So instead of sending out surveys and holding focus groups about my writing, I have to do some guess work about who you are. Are you at home in your underpants reading this while your wife plays WoW in the other room? Are you adjusting your $400 glasses as you read this on your macbook pro in a dust free room? I don’t know, and I’ll never really know. So I have to just make some choices and then write in a way that asks you to be a certain kind of reader. In other words, I have to make some choices about who you are and treat you like I want you to want yourself to be treated. (Did you follow that?)

Anyway, here are the three voices I found that I write in based on who I think you are: my journaling voice, my academic voice, and my blog voice.

My journaling voice is the voice I mainly use to write on 750words.com. It’s a private voice that I really only use when I am writing to myself, and/or perhaps to some reader who cares about who I am deep inside, like maybe my wife. But even then, I don’t share all the I write in my journal voice to her. I use this voice mainly to self-evaluate and reflect (most of the time to beat myself up and call myself a failure. TMI?). I include a lot of personal information with this voice, and it tends to get melodramatic and maudlin. This journaling voice that a lot of us write in is so hilariously inappropriate in public that these people have created in international fervor for people sharing it openly. My journaling voice is what I use to write nonsense or warmup, or sometimes even to write a draft. But I make sure to leave only a small trace of it in my finished product.

Next I have my academic voice. This voice usually comes out when I am overly aware, even self-conscious, of an audience, and so I emphasize (or even feign) my authority in the subject I am writing about. I purposefully leave out almost all personal stuff because I imagine an audience who wants only to be informed and not bogged down by my emotional carry-on items. I imagine an audience that “privileges reason over emotion,” or something like a college professor that I didn’t get along with. In this voice I use really big words and dense sentences. In my last post, when I used the word asynchronous, I was writing in my academic voice.

The saddest thing is, I have grown so comfortable in this voice (which most people hear as terribly starched and cold) that it comes out naturally in my daily speech, to the detriment of my ability to carry on a normal conversation. I can’t make chitchat at parties unless I am talking to other academics who have a similar ailment. Being in college for eight years has hurt my ability to just talk normally to people. And I know that when I write that way, I turn people off.

When I write a blog, I try to stay away from my journaling voice and my academic voice as much as possible because both have a way of making people feel uncomfortable. That’s what my blog voice is for. I imagine that the audience reading this (you, good sir or madam) wants good information; they want it fast and easy, and while they are reading/learning, they want to be entertained with wordplay and jokes. That’s who I imagine you are and I am making my best effort to give you what I think you think you want. When I am writing in this voice, I am aware of consonance, assonance, puns, and humor. I am asking myself things like “how do I spice this up?” or “what pop culture references can I make here?” Once I know I have a foundation of good thought, I need to appeal to (what I think are) a certain audience’s sensibilities.

These voices come both as I write and as I revise. I usually draft in my journaling voice, and then over-correct into my academic voice, and then (hopefully) revise into my blogging voice. But it’s almost never that clear-cut, and I almost never am as aware of these voices as I am pretending to be right now.

On top of all of that, I also have to ask myself what brand of writer I think that I am and which parts of which voice are going to portray me in that way. Am I polished and perfected? witty or dry? Am I professional and sophisticated, or am I messy and sincere and vulnerable? As I switch among these voices it’s like I am trying on different costumes, looking in the mirror, and evaluating if it feels right.

Answering these questions for myself, I start to come up with my writing brand. I am vulnerable, messy, (hopefully) thoughtful, and (hopefully) kinda funny. In order to present myself as the kind of writer I want you to think I am, I have to find the balance among these three voices to sound that way.

What’s your writing brand?