WJ#9

Writer’s Journal #9 – Generative Writing

Growing up as an Italian-American kid in Italy, questions of belonging and community have always puzzled me. Am I Italian, because I live and grew up in Italy? Or am I American, because that’s what I feel my background is for most aspects? To this day, I have yet to find an answer. I like to think it’s because it’s not that important. At least, for now. But reflecting on the topic of “belonging to a community”, I can surely say I feel I belong to the hip-hop community and have done so for about 15 years now. Hip-hop is more than just the music you can see videos of on TV and YouTube; it’s a culture that comprehends many disciplines like break dancing, graffiti, DJing and beatboxing, and promotes values like peace, love, unity, respect and knowledge.

My first approach wasn’t one to really brag about (I started because a friend of mine listened to Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer, not ideally the most prominent members of the community), but it did introduce me to the community and made me curious to investigate and go deeper. And that’s how I learned about what hip-hop is and what it stands for. To be recognized as a member, you first need to share the values and ideals it promotes, the paramount of which is knowledge. If you know about the history of it and the most prominent members that have contributed to its development, you can start thinking about yourself as a member. If you would like to contribute by rapping, DJing, break dancing or doing graffiti, you need to understand that a certain attitude is expected of you: one of commitment, dedication to improving and respect for your elders and peers. It is a highly competitive community, but this competitiveness is aimed towards improvement, both personal and mutual.

To be recognized as a member, you first need to share the values and ideals it promotes, the paramount of which is knowledge. If you know about the history of it and the most prominent members that have contributed to its development, you can start thinking about yourself as a member too. If you would like to contribute by rapping, DJing, break dancing or doing graffiti, you need to understand that a certain attitude is expected of you: one of commitment, dedication to improving and respect for your elders and peers. It is a highly competitive community, but this competitiveness is aimed towards improvement, both personal and mutual.

The behaviour that allows me to be identified in this community is my respecting all the above-mentioned traits: I am a beat maker, i.e. the musician who makes the instrumentals for the rapper and DJ’s to use, and without false modesty, a well-respected one, at least locally. When events are organized, I can show up and be sure to know at least 80% of the performers involved on a personal level, though not being a front man makes me more difficult to be recognized by the general public. I do have social networks, but I tend to rely more on my music than my image.

As per my appearance, hip-hop has long since started dictating fashion trends and we can see that on a daily basis. Thos of you with kids will definitely confirm. There are scores of brands that are endorsed or even started by members of the community, thus making it rather easy to spot a member. However, the fact that it is fashion means that it can attract people who have no interest in understanding what lies beyond the apparel and just want to fit in and be up-to-date with the modern trend. Personally, I do not follow the fashion anymore, and though I still have some items I keep in my closet as a relic of old times, I tend to keep my appearance as “clean” and simple as possible. I have never really loved standing out, and that’s probably the reason why I chose to make the music, traditionally a role that stays in the background. Kind of like the drummer in a rock band.

I have never really loved standing out, and that’s probably the reason why I chose to make the music, traditionally a role that stays in the background. Kind of like the drummer in a rock band.  And come to think of it, my being confused as to who I am nationality-wise may be the reason I have chosen this background role: I don’t know who I am exactly, and I don’t want to burden my neighbour with the same doubt. It confuses people and, historically, people are afraid or refuse what they fail to understand. So in order to feel accepted, I need people to not be confused and afraid. It probably has many other ramifications, but I feel I might be getting a bit OT here, so let’s just leave it at that.

Thanks for reading.

WJ#8

Writer’s Journal #8 – Fast-Writes

How does your outward appearance (i.e. clothing, makeup, hairstyle, accessories, etc.) reflect your cultural identity?

I don’t really care much about my appearance, so I think this reflects negatively on my cultural identity. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t look like I get dressed in the dark, I pay attention to not be wearing too many colors or not overdoing it, but I give appearance a secondary role in life. I think this sets me with the people who come across as not loving themselves and not very sociable, though I am the opposite. I generally love being in the company of other people, though I also love being alone and chilling.

How do your behaviors and practices (i.e. rituals, daily activities, routines, habits, etc.) reflect your cultural identity?

I am hardly ever involved in routine, as I like to keep my life unpredictable and full of surprises. I don’t have any particular habits, if not I tend to binge activities and get bored with them after a while. I am inconsistent in some activities in my life, which I think reflects my being a young adult in a Western society, more specifically living in Italy, where it is easy to have access to a series of activities and resources that make the choice very difficult. It’s easy to decide to start playing football because it’s the national sport; all the same, it’s easy to get bored with it because of how much inflation there is about it.

How do your beliefs and values (i.e. opinions, commitments, memberships, principles, etc.) reflect your cultural identity?

I feel that my beliefs and values paint a weird picture of my identity, even to myself. Probably because I have never reflected much on what beliefs I have and tend to live a carpe diem style of life. My commitment is to be the best person I can be, not harm others, help the youth improve and be better people and make sure my family is safe and sound. I don’t have any membership, I don’t believe entering politics can help because power corrupts people. If we could all make sure the circle around us is the best it can be, no politics would be necessary., But humans are a bad species at heart, so that’s just utopic for me to think. So I don’t think I have a specific identity in this sense, if not maybe of a superficial person who isn’t engaged because he’s too lazy. I can agree with that, actually.

How do your dietary and domestic practices (i.e. hygienic routines, meals and mealtimes, food choices, daily chores) reflect your cultural identity?

My diet would make a nutritionist stab me. I have no diet, I eat what I like and when I like it and I don’t complain too much about my gut being prominent. I try to exercise a little bit more because I’m aware it’s not good for me, and if I want to see 50 at least, I need some kind of rule. I am a clean person, in this society that really gives a lot of importance to all senses, including smell, I think it’s key to fall in the ranks and stay clean. Fortunately, we have access to clean, running water and an agonizingly broad choice of soaps, deodorants and perfumes, so there are no excuses if not terrible laziness or a lack of the sense of smell, to not having an impeccable personal hygiene.

How does your region or location in the world reflect your cultural identity?

I live in Italy and this has influenced a number of things in my identity: for one, I am generally late, though in Italy if you’re under 15 minutes late it’s not considered rude, but standard. They are called “academic quarter of an hour”. Go figure. Also gesticulating has become part of my identity: when I speak to Italians, it comes automatically, though when I speak to other nationalities this doesn’t happen. I guess I have adapted in time to understand who I have in front of me and use the same language to communicate with them. I feel this also reflects on the way I see the other nations in the world, and I can notice it by the way I listen to the news. I am currently less interested in my local news and more fascinated by what’s happening overseas.

Describe a time when you were judged, excluded, or misunderstood because of one of the cultural traits noted above.

When I was a child and went to elementary school, I was one of the first children with mixed parents (Mom’s Italian, Dad’s American) who was being raised by a single mother. This caused some of my classmates and other kids in the school to treat me differently, mainly because I used to eat my own packed lunch (usually PB&J’s) in the cafeteria while all the other kids ate pasta and lasagna and pizza and other typical Italian dishes. My diet identified me as American, which was not really accepted. I live near an Air Force base, so the American presence was really important, though not really welcome by somememberss of the local community. This translated to me and I was often excluded from games, not invited to parties and generally shunned.

WJ#7

Writer’s Journal #7 – Generating Ideas

After reading several posts about how others generate ideas I can notice that the trend is more or less the same: note taking, list making, brainstorming. I have tried and done all of these in the past and have had mixed results, though I believe it had more to do with my state of mind and creativity vein rather than the idea generation part.

I am currently working at a summer camp where I am in charge of a little video laboratory, in which I create very short clips with some of the children. Usually, my struggle is with the generation of the idea, after which I can say I don’t have any issues in developing it. This year, however, I’m finding myself a bit slumped on the development side and I seem to be able to resolve the situation by improvising and making swift changes to the course of action as I’m doing it. For example, I was preparing a short clip of a child doing the bottle flip challenge and through editing, I wanted to make it look like he was a pro and was able to do the most difficult flips. But after viewing it a few times, I saw that it didn’t work as I had pictured it, so I decided to go the other way and have him intentionally fail at it, but making it seem as if he’s doing it correctly. I had the inspiration for that as I was filming the original idea, and by changing it the video now works and is funny. So it comes down to trial and error, plus a very vivid imagination.

However, I haven’t found any alternative ways of generating ideas in any of my peers’ post. I believe this is because I’ve been using my creativity and my imagination for so long that I’ve tried them all. It does give me solace in seeing how many people share these different systems and have confirmed that they work, though I believe that to be something very subjective to each individual.

WJ#6

Writer’s Journal #6 – Your Writing Practices

If I’m being completely honest, I have always underestimated writing, ever since I was in school. I feel part of this is my fault (I’m rather lazy at heart) and part of it is my teachers’ doing.

I grew up in Italy as an only child being raised by a single mother, which meant that the other half of my family was elsewhere: in this case, in the US. This presented me with the ideal chance to write letters to stay in touch with my father and grandparents, which I did, semi-regularly. I’m a lazy person at heart, don’t judge me. But it pains me to admit: that was the only time I did any writing apart from school assignments (which I did reluctantly, of course). But fortunately, I discovered a passion for teaching English as a Foreign language and with it the pleasure of using words and learning strategies, which has really helped me improve professionally and personally.  And this is what brought me here.

And this is what brought me here: as part of my lessons, I also do preparation for English certifications (pieces of paper that tell the world you know English to the level you’ve passed) and a part of these exams is writing. It obviously takes time to learn how to write well and if you’re doing it in a language you don’t use every day, it can get even harder. This year, a group of students who sat the exam passed all the other sections with distinction, but the writing part was a simple Pass. Basically, a C. I always strive to make them perform at their best, which means that there must have been something wrong in the way I taught them. How could I solve this situation? By taking up studying how to write myself, so that I could transfer the knowledge to them and be sure that next time they will pass with higher grades. That is my motivation and I have to say that so far I’ve already gotten some important pieces of information I know will help me in this feat.

In order to make this possible, I think I need to overcome my limit when it comes to persistence: I tend to give in if something doesn’t meet my expectations, I believe I see it as a waste of time and energy I could be putting into something more profitable (not only on the financial side). I am aware this is a side of my personality I need to work on, and it’s never too late to start. To be honest, it’s a side of me I try to hide from my students because I know it can be a huge obstacle in growing academically. I know it has been for me. My aim is not to succeed as a writer, but to be successful as an EFL teacher also for what regards writing.

I expect this course will help me to that end, though I am aware I will need to pull the wagon too. I am prepared for it. I also hope that my peers will gain the instruments they need to improve their own writing, so as to be able to have better chances of finding a job, or of passing a college course or even writing professionally in their blogs or books. Writing can make us better people, by using reflection and rhetoric we can push our brains to be more active and stimulated, which hopefully will lead to being capable of feeling more empathy, which will finally result in more peace. That is my hope for the future.

What do you think’?

 

WJ#5

Writer’s Journal #5 – Understanding Rhetorical Concepts

As far as I understand it, rhetoric is a mental state we enter when we find ourselves in a situation in which we have to persuade someone, and this state triggers a selection of words and forms in our brain that helps us complete the task. This moment is the rhetorical situation. This mechanism heightens your sense of logic, lexis and style so as to prepare you to engage your audience. In writing, it will allow you to think of pros and cons of the matter, as well as cause-effect relations.

Personally, it puts me in a sort of state of trance, in which I feel like I’m playing a part and I try to do it at my best. Being a rather kind-hearted and calm person at the core, I find arguing difficult, though when I lunge into one, I generally try to get out of it with minimal damage and, hopefully, more knowledge than when I started.

The last time I needed to write something rhetorically was a few days ago, for this course. I replied to a post by a peer about the learning process and I gave my experience on the subject of memorization. I think at this point I’m in the mechanical part of the rhetorical aspect: identifying the purpose, audience and how to appeal is almost instantaneous. In this case, my aim was to give my experience on the topic of studying in school and my view on the methods teachers use to assign study work; my audience was peer students with a variety of academic backgrounds, as well as nationalities; and the way I went about doing it was by being as clear and detailed as possible with my examples.

I think that this section on rhetoric has put in order what I felt and almost instinctively knew from experience about discussing, be it in writing or orally. I am used to doing it, though it rarely happens: to this day, I still argue with my mother (it’s not a prerogative of teenagers) and need to find all the rhetoric I can find to be able to persuade her of my point of view. It goes without saying, this will help me in all my future writing endeavours as well, now that I have had written confirmation from scholars that what I was doing was accurate.

I believe rhetorical knowledge is key and should be addressed first because it’s what you do before you start writing and the efficacy of the piece comes from it. I can’t expect this argumentative text to convince you that I have read all the rationales and done the other assignments if I don’t consider first all the elements we have seen this week, which I know you know, dear reader, because I have considered my audience for this post and it’s of peers who have completed the first week and the professors. And trying to use new techniques immediately is the best way to get them tattooed in your brain. It really works.

WJ#4

Writer’s Journal #4 – Reflecting on Collaboration

The notion of writing collaboratively isn’t new to me. Every book I have ever read often featured an Acknowledgements section in it, and the writers always had praise and gratitude towards friends, family and colleagues who I could tell had collaborated on the book, or at least chimed in with some feedback. This goes for both fiction and non-fiction.

Generally, I find collaborating both exciting and intimidating: the former because I think it’s the best way to improve, the latter because it’s not easy for me to take any kind of criticism, so it will be an effective way to try and overcome one of my biggest limits. I believe that collaboration can help me get an exterior view of my work and improve and clarify some sections which might be clear to me because of my background and previous knowledge, but may be rather obscure to people who don’t share the same experiences. I tend to get lost in myself at times, so that’s definitely something that can be resolved.

Finally, I believe the Outcomes focus on collaboration because it is one of those soft skills that are increasingly necessary for today’s and tomorrow’s professional sector. In addition to the fact that the world now is home to over 7 billion people and counting, collaborating is ever more crucial to the development of healthy relations between humans, which I believe is a pivotal point in life. This means that through collaborating in writing, we can learn to collaborate, period. And working together means having a common aim and striving to reach it. Let’s just hope we all use these powers for good, once we acquire them.

WJ#3

Writer’s Journal #3 – Reflecting on Writing Process

I must be honest: before this day, I had never even heard of reflective thinking applied to writing. I had, of course, heard of reflection and was familiar with the concept, though I very rarely apply it to my everyday life. I’m afraid this is bound to change.

I can see how reflecting on a piece can help set a clear direction for the article or essay, and revise it to make it coherent; when I write, I’m usually in a sort of frenzy and that, paired with the little patience I have, is a recipe for haphazardly structured writings. Reflecting can help me implement the rhetorical decisions necessary to make it flow.

I believe reflective writing takes the writer himself deeper into his own mind and his own intentions; it’s almost like having an out-of-body experience, in which they see themselves from the outside and analyze what mark in the world they will be leaving. It’s a deeper experience than any other type of writing.

During this course, I think I will apply reflective writing to the projects that are due, since I see them as the training I need to apply the same principle in life. The best way for me to do this is to draft using free writing to generate ideas, let them decanter for a bit as my subconscious keeps pondering them over and over, and then reflect on everything that has come up and let it fall into place like pieces of a puzzle. I think my subconscious already knows how to make things work, I just need to give it the necessary time to arrange everything accordingly and then inform my conscious. This may be self-suggestion, but so far it seems to work for me. If the shoe fits…

As per what relates to the WPA outcomes, I think reflective writing relates the most to critical reading and processes: when you are re-reading your writing, you need to analyze it from the perspective of the reader, put yourself in their shoes and be critical about the text. By doing so, you can edit it and intervene where necessary, sometimes revolutionizing the entire piece or making adjustments on the processes as you see fit.

WJ#2

Writer’s Journal #2 – The Learning Process

In my experience, learning to write is something you acquire in kindergarten and in the first years of elementary school, at least for what concerns the technical and physical aspects of it. The challenge, however, is to learn to write well, in terms of GPS (Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling, as I like to remind my students when revising) and content as well. A piece could be beautifully written in style, but if it’s a dissertation on the rise of the iron and steel industry in 15th century Europe, I will catch Z’s before the end of the first paragraph (a true story, by the way).

The learning process to writing includes, as far as I know, reading first of all: to make an analogy, you can’t paint a picture if, first, you don’t look at what you want to paint. Be it a landscape, a portrait of a beautiful lady or an abstract subject, you need to visualize it before translating it to the canvas. The same goes for writing, and the reading part is the “visualization” that comes before the production.

After that, one should try their hand at writing and start going for as long as they can, using metacognition to assess their work by comparing it to the readings one has done before, and then seeking feedback from people they respect the opinion of. I think this is key because, in the era of the internet and free speech, nothing stops people from being gratuitously mean and purposefully insulting just for the fun of it. This can be detrimental to writers who are just trying to better themselves and reach their goals.

My sense of the learning process comes from experience and from the studies I have done and the books I have read on the topic, as well as from some reflection I have made by confronting myself with other colleagues and students. It may and will differ from my peers’ definition because I believe most of them are not educators and trainers, so probably have never jumped the fence to the other side to change their perspective. Although, if you’re reading this, I warmly recommend you do: shifting your perspective to that of a person who is in charge or superior in hierarchy can really be eye-opening.

WJ#1

Writer’s Journal #1 – Outcomes Reflection

I always knew writing was tough work, but I honestly had no idea it involved considering so many steps and multifaceted aspects. Being that I attended high school in an Italian institution, the time and energy spent on teaching writing was rather different from what I am sensing this course will require. To be completely honest, I had four different teachers during the five-year span, which was not ideal for keeping continuity and developing skills. Each new teacher would briefly and superficially check the class’ level of preparation and move on. Plus, the way school is organized allows students to work on writing for a very short time because what counts the most is learning the literature, studying the authors that are so many and have written such a plethora of works that it takes up three whole years to barely cover half of them. Therefore, writing is part of the testing system, but at the same time is not really fostered and taught. This comes from my own direct experience, as well as from what my students tell me. To sum up, I am surprised by the amount of details one must consider when writing any kind of text.

However, I am sure that by condensing these outcomes and presenting them to my students in a more graphic and organized fashion might help them improve their writing in Italian too, as I believe said outcomes to be common to all languages and not just a prerogative of English.

Unfortunately, I know for a fact that most high schoolers today do not read much, if at all, and write even less (let’s not consider texting as actually writing). This is leading to an impoverishment of all the skills that the outcomes are aimed at improving, with a subsequent loss of interpersonal and self-reflection abilities.

This reflects negatively on their confidence, self-esteem and therefore performance in school, sports and life in general. It has been said that writing is an intimate activity that should be done in solitary confinement and secrecy, but it has also been said that by using it as a collaborative task it can help people interact and improve one another. I believe the latter to be true, though it really depends on the nature of the written product. Diaries are by definition more intimate and should be kept secret, while essays, reviews and articles should be shared with the world, as they can spark debates, enrich and educate, or entertain.

As per the second point, what confuses me a bit is how the collaboration aspect will work, namely peer correction: there are scores of people enrolled in the course, which should allow everyone to get some feedback some way or another, but from what I have noticed in the introduction section a lot of posts have gone unanswered. Granted the introduction thread does not really have much debating to offer, I do think it can offer a great opportunity to practice creativity (i.e. coming up with something to say) and openness.

Finally, I personally think that these outcomes depict academic writing as a very meticulous, complex process, something that takes time and effort, and it should be so. My direct experience with writing is, I must sadly admit, very limited because I hardly ever do it, though I will put keeping a journal on my to-do list from now on. I hope to be able to keep this up, as persistence has always been my Achille’s heel. However, I think that it might help me develop some of those habits of mind that can help mental agility as well: have you ever been in an argument, or discussion, and was unable to come back with a response in the moment, but thought about what you could have said one or two days later? That happens to me a bit too often. I am putting my eggs in the writing basket to try and partially tackle this problem. Hope it helps!