Posts tagged: communication

Leaving a mark

The RockThere’s a rock alongside a road on campus here, right next to the river, that was given to Michigan State University as the senior class gift back in 1873. On campus, it’s known as The Rock, proving either that simpler is better or that there’s a historical lack of creativity in naming things on campus. Almost every night, someone paints the rock. The tradition is that anyone can paint it, but if you don’t guard it all night, someone else can come along and paint over it.

I’ve painted it twice, though both times I was more of an accessory to the painting rather than the painter itself: once as part of a soccer team and once as a member of the marching band.

It’s rare for the same message to be left on The Rock two days running, and it’s become something of a campus tradition. Painting The Rock always makes the unofficial lists of the things you should do while at MSU, and there’s never a shortage of people willing to go, buy spray paint, then cover the rock with a new set of paint. (As an aside, there’s so much paint on that rock that no one knows how big it actually is.)

I teach a freshman writing course at MSU now, and I’ve focused my course on new media. I’m trying to get my students to understand that all forms of communication are valid and valuable, that Facebook posts and text messages should be just as thought out as formal texts, that it all matters. My students came in the first day not understanding themselves as creators of texts—that was what I did, what other writers did—and as they leave my class this week, this is the one lesson I want them to remember the most. It all counts. Read more »

The language of death

My dog died this past weekend. We’re one of those families that gets really attached to our animals, but this dog seemed to have an extra special something that is making his loss all the more poignant (especially for me since I was on vacation in Florida when it happened, and at 26 I still haven’t lost anyone I was close to). On top of that I have two family members who recently had to go to the hospital for heart problems. And on top of that, I just turned in my review of Édouard Levé’s Suicide for The Collagist.

So I’ve been thinking about death lately, and the ways in which we, those left living, navigate talking about it.

It first hit me a few hours after my parents called to say they’d found our dog dead in his bed on Sunday morning. “He’s dead,” my dad said, and it struck me how odd it is to talk about the departed using future tense. Not “He died” but rather “He is dead,” as if death is another state that we can move into, and again back out of. I’m trying to use the past tense more, but I still notice myself (and others) slipping, transitioning to this change in language, to this permanence, this final, irreversible state. Read more »

Too serious or not serious enough?

I’ve been thinking lately about Shira’s discussion of blogging and introducing high school students to a world of Internet communication wider than Facebook, wondering if they (or I) even really have Facebook nailed yet. Two weeks back I posted a link to an infographic on my Facebook that, due to the content that had been analyzed and designed, riled a few feathers (to put it lightly). The comment left on my post was sent to my email and came through while I was at work, which meant that I had all day to think about what to respond but couldn’t actually go on and craft a response until I got home. And I admit, I stressed more than a little bit about it.

On the one hand, it seemed so silly to me to be worrying about it. I mean, it’s Facebook, for heaven’s sake! People write articles about how to handle Facebook breakups and whether or not you should friend your ex. And here I was wondering how to respond in a way that people visiting my profile would (1) see me standing up for myself and my views and (2) doing that in a respectful and logical manner. Judging by the articles across the web, not the concern of your average Facebook user.

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What counts as valid writing

I found this article in my local newspaper yesterday, and while it’s specifically discussing text messaging, it got me wondering about what counts as writing—and what doesn’t.

First, full disclosure, the professor mentioned in the article teaches in my former department at Michigan State, and I have nothing but good things to say about both the Professional Writing program and the Digital Rhetoric program. And I think what it comes down to is this: “The study, led by Jeff Grabill, a professor of rhetoric and writing, was an effort to characterize student’s writing lives, to figure out what sort of writing they do so that the people charged with teaching them to write better will know where to start the conversation.”

This isn’t to say, of course, that writing a text message is the same caliber of creation as writing a ten-page research paper, or a braided essay—and that’s coming from someone who uses correct capitalization, spelling, punctuation and grammar in all of her text message, no exceptions—but that communication and the ways in which its done are both changing.

Grabill still believes writing teachers have a ways to go in acknowledging changes in the way writing is done, the environments where it happens, the technologies used to do it.

“The fact that we still more or less teach writing the same way we taught it 100 years ago is kind of a remarkable thing,” he said.

And this, too, I can’t help but agree with. Granted, I’m not familiar with other disciplines like I am writing, but off the top of my head I can’t think of others that are this stuck in the past. And this is something that my professional writing degree, and professors like Grabill, as evidenced in the article, are trying to change: To teach students that communication matters, you first have to show them that you recognize their forms of communication as valid. Because like it or not, they’re here to stay, so let’s do what we can to make them successful.

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