• Writing is _______

    Writing as a metaphor.

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    Writing is taking your brain to The Container Store.

    The Container Store. Have you ever been there? It’s a perfectly organized space full of every size container imaginable so that you may too, have a perfectly organized space in your house. The Container Store has a solution for every random item one chooses to keep. You can buy a tiny basket that sticks to your dryer with magnets and is labeled “Pocket Treasures” for all those random objects that go through the wash.

    You can buy a jar that fits really long pasta just so, keeping it fresh and accessible. With The Container Store, (and lots of money to give The Container Store), you can ensure that every single object in your house has a home, freeing yourself of clutter and stress!

    So, for me, writing is taking my brain to the container store. The second I sit down to write, all my cluttered thoughts begin to sort themselves into appropriately sized boxes. At first some ideas might try to stick together, thinking that they belong in the same poem or blog or memo. Sometimes they do belong together, and sometimes the writing process allows each idea it’s own space to grow and fit into a format all its own. Writing gives each thought a home, allows me to organize those thoughts to stack on top of one another neatly; or to store them away in a moisture proof under-the-bed clear bin so that I can revisit them when the time is right. Writing turns some of my ideas into cute little phrases that decorate the hall, complete with tiny hooks and no real purpose other than to hang my keys on. It turns other thoughts into massive filing cabinet sized stories that I can fill with a hundred other related thoughts, neatly organized into chapters.

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    I suppose that Lakoff and Johnson would call this all a conduit metaphor, a term coined by Michael Reddy. The basic idea of this is that “Ideas are objects. Linguistic expressions are containers. Communication is sending.” (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980). They take issue with conduit metaphors though, believing that they limit our worldview into what will fit inside our metaphor boxes. This may be true for a single box, there is only so much space after all. But, if Lakoff and Johnson had ever visited The Container Store, they would see that there is an endless variety of new boxes to put new ideas into.

    Of course, the real issue with conduit metaphors is that they rely on the idea that the words themselves hold all the meaning necessary for proper communication. This is not true, context matters in many situations, take jargon for example. A cop might say “I’ve got a suspect on the box and I’m gonna run code on this apb.”

    The words alone mean nothing unless you have the context of being a cop. Viewing a single metaphorical box on it’s own cannot be expected to send the whole message.

    For example, I would never expect someone to understand how my laundry room is organized just by showing them my “Pocket Treasures” basket. They would of course have to see the entire scope of perfectly curated containers that always keep my laundry room ready for the cover of Country Living. In this same sense, one paragraph of a story is not enough to understand the message I am trying to send. You would have to read the whole thing, all the thoughts organized and lined up together because for me, writing is visiting The Container Store.

    *The Container Store did not pay me to write this.

    Lakoff, George and Johnson, Mark. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

  • Finding Inspiration

    Ideas for my lyrical hermit crab essay

    What is a hermit crab essay? One blogger defines it as

    “A nonfiction essay style where a writer will adopt an existing form to contain their writing. These forms can be a number of things including emails, recipes, to do lists, and field guides.” (McCraley, 2019).

    Much like the hermit crab uses another’s shell to house it’s soft body, this style of essay uses a pre existing format to house unexpected lyrical musings and stories.

    You can read more about McCraley’s take on hermit crab essays on her blog, The Writing Addict.

    It took me a second to wrap my head around how I would create my own hermit crab essay, and then I remembered a book that I was just in love with in my early 20’s.

    The book is The Lover’s Dictionary, written by David Levithan. Each page contains a dictionary entry for a word, and a short paragraph about what that word means in relation to a specific relationship between an man and women. I always thought the format of this book was so creative, and I would like to try to write my hermit crab essay in the form of a dictionary.

    The story we get about this relationship does not come to us chronologically, but by alphabetical dictionary entries. By the time the reader finishes the book, a clear picture of the entire relationship has formed. You can view one of the entries below, and the book is available to purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Lovers-Dictionary-Novel-David-Levithan/dp/1250002354

    An excerpt from The Lover’s Dictionary

    Here’s a book review you can watch to see more examples of Levithan’s take on definitions.

    How does the form that David Levithan choose for this essay, contribute to the meaning of the piece? The use of short entries highlights the parts of a relations

    hip that stand out to those within it. It’s often the little things in a relationship, like inside jokes, a partner’s annoying habits, and the small items collected, that accumulate to define the relationship. By writing his story this way, Levithan shows the importance of those little things and they way they can haunt us when the relationship is over. The overall effect is a powerful one. The aesthetics of this piece, just one short paragraph per page, make it very easy to read and draws the reader in to the story in a way that a full page of text does not.

    Photo by Vincent M.A. Janssen on Pexels.com

    For my story, I will not be writing about a relationship, but about my personal struggles with grief, and the way grief can change the meaning of so many random words and objects. As far as ethics go, the story will be of a very personal nature. It will be my truth, and my families truth, I don’t expect there to be any ethical dilemmas involved.

  • 6 Word Stories

    An experiment in flash fiction

    At first, I found this prompt challenging. How can one possibly tell a story in just 6 words? There is no room for explanations, no room for characters, no room for plot lines. The 6 words have to be precise and sharp, they have to strike some sort of chord in the reader, they have to carry meaning despite being so few. Once I had a few of these 6 word memoirs on paper however, they began to come to me more naturally and I spent most of the day thinking in 6 word phrases. Here’s the 10 I initially came up with.

    In case you want the plain text versions:

    Wanted: someone who reads, between lines.

    Be the sun’s first morning ray.

    Loneliness is a dead end street.

    Use with care, beat the heart.

    Still, the buried ember burns bright.

    You and I were sublime, once.

    Dear dad, you never said goodbye.

    Do bad habits know they’re bad?

    I told the darkness about you.

    We were just elbows and knees.

    Photo by Ivo Rainha on Pexels.com

    As I was coming up withy my 6 word memoirs, I realized that a few of them would work well together to create a more extensive poem. Each line is 6 words and could likely stand on it’s own as a 6 word memoir.

    Hello new friend, sighed the spider.

    Not everybody makes it this far.

    I think I’m lost, whimpered fly.

    You are right where you belong.

    The web trembled, then was still.

    Spider patched the hole, feeling alone.

    Overall I really enjoyed this experiment and felt that it challenged me to think in a new way. I look forward to playing around with more flash fiction in the future.

  • Writing in Digital Spaces

    How does technology change the way I write?
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    When I first learned to write, all my creative choices came down to what font I wanted to use. Would my 5th grade poem look better written in cursive and in black ink, or in all capital letters in a sharp pencil? Should I center it on my page, or keep it close to the left hand margin? There was no conversation happening about digital affordances and how those would affect my composition process. When I switched to writing my poetry and short stories on a computer instead of paper, the choice was about efficiency and not creativity. It was faster to type than writing by hand, easier to edit, and simpler to share with family or friends via email. It’s only recently that I have begun to think about the true affordances that technology gives me and the content I create. I now consider the visual and aural options that could supplement my writing. I think about how the format of a piece would change based on how I publish it. I am finding that there are more and more ways to curate my individual voice, ways that go far beyond the words I put on paper.

    I recently took a multimedia composition class, and it helped me push the boundaries of my story telling process. I was able to use a mix of photography, video, and audio alongside my writing.

    The following screenshots are from the final project I created for that multimedia class. The story is a personal account of a backpacking trip I took. Here you see writing followed by a collage of photos from trip.

    In this screenshot you can see text from the body of my story, a quote that is formatted to stand apart from the rest of the text, and a video clip from an interview I did with my travel partner.

    One of my favorite multimedia features I took advantage of was my ability to upload scans of the journals my friend and I kept while on our backpacking trip. Here’s an example of one of those scans, detailing everything we had in our packs. Here is the link to that story in case anyone is interested in reading more. 40 Days on The Road

    Beyond the forms of media used, I also realized that I could mix my writing styles and formats within one piece and still create a coherent story. Listicle articles are widely popular these days, and I’ve found that I enjoy creating a hybrid listicle that supplements each list item with personal essays and interviews. I feel like using a mixed media approach to story telling allows me to reach a wider audience. A solid wall of text can be daunting to some readers and lose their attention quickly. Text interspersed with vibrant photos, however, can catch a reader’s attention in different ways. I can make quotes stand out by using various formats, I can utilize headlines and subtitles to highlight key phrases. It becomes a more immersive and fun experience for the reader, and for me as I create the content. I think it really comes down to that word, create.

    Before I began utilizing all the affordances of digital literacy, I would have always used the word writing; now it’s so much more than that. I am creating an experience, not just writing a story.

    For the most part I can only see the benefits that a digital space has given me, the affordances. Although there is one constraint that I struggle with. When I was writing on paper, it felt like it was more personal, like it was just for me. There is a sense of privacy to it, which is why my personal journal still is and always will be handwritten. When type something though, I have a sense that the whole world will read it, even if I am trying to write it for my eyes only. This feeling of writing for a public space changes the way I write, and as hard as I try I can’t write just for me when it’s on a computer; I am always re-reading what I write through the eyes of everyone else. This frustrates me sometimes, but I always have the option of returning to pen and paper when it happens.

    Overall, the affordances of digital literacy far outweigh the constraints. The digital world has changed the way I write and the way I compose my content, and I feel like a more well-rounded writer because of it. I think that the creativity induced by new technology is exciting and I am inspired everyday by the things people make and put online.

  • Zip, Zap, Zoom! It’s Onomatopoeia

    Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com

    Audio Script –

    Hello. Today I will be talking about the affordances that audio allows us, that basic text does not. And what better way to do that than to talk about onomatopoeia and its history.

    What is onomatopoeia? The oxford language dictionary defines it as “the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named.” Some examples of this would be the words sizzle, zap, boing, and pitter-patter. Onomatopoeia adds color to text, it brings the words to life, it forces the reader to hear a sound in their mind as they read the words. But how did this crazy word, “onomatopoeia” come to be? And where do we see it used the most?

    I found a great blog on Poets.org where I got a lot of information about this. According to the unaccredited writer of this post, the term onomatopoeia was first used in 1577 by author Henry Peacham. He termed the phrase in his book on grammar and rhetoric called “The Garden of Eloquence”. In this book he defined it as

    “when we invent, devise, fayne, and make a name intimating the sound of that it signifieth.”

    Henry Peacham

    The language he uses is pretty rusty by today’s terms, but it gets at the same point as the Oxford dictionary definition. Although Henry was the first to use the term onomatopoeia, examples of it have been used since the invention of language itself.

    In fact, some of the easiest words for children to learn are onomatopoeia words. The classic nursery rhyme, “Old McDonald” is full of sounds that animals make. “with a moo moo here and a oink oink there!” Kids books utilize words like bam, buzz, pop, and so on to help children associate the sounds they hear around them with the language they are trying to learn.

    Beyond just children’s books, you can see uses of onomatopoeia in literature across the globe. Edgar Allen Poe famously saturates his poem “The Bells” with many examples of onomatopoeia.

     He writes,

    “How they clang, and clash, and roar! By the twanging, and the clanging, how the danger ebbs and flows; yet the ear distinctly tells, in the jangling, and the wrangling.”

    As for the long and complicated word onomatopoeia, it has it’s roots in Greek. Onoma means “name” and poiein means “to make”. So, the sound itself is what “makes the name”.

    Now, to touch on audio versus visual texts? Would this message have been as enjoyable to receive if it hadn’t been full of fun sounds? No, it wouldn’t have. Aural delivery opens up many different doors for us and creates a space where a broader mixed media message is possible! The trick is in determining what works best in text and what works best with audio.

    Thanks for listening!


    “Onomatopoeia.” Poets.org, Academy of American Poets, https://poets.org/glossary/Onomatopoeia.

    Poe, E. (1903). The Bells. The Works of Edgar Allan Poe (Lit2Go Edition). Retrieved March 10, 2023, from https://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/147/the-works-of-edgar-allan-poe/5222/the-bells/

    Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com


    When I realized that the assignment was an audio one, I knew I needed a subject matter that would let me use sound effects. From there, onomatopoeia was an easy subject to choose. I used Adobe Audition to make my audio clip, and most of the sound effects were created by my husband and daughter. Being able to layer interviews with sounds is one of the best things about aural delivery, and I had a lot of fun making this one!

  • Can “The Truth” be Read From an Image?

    Plato and Aristotle, discussing the nature of reality

    What does it mean to “read” an image? Images are deceivingly simple; many can glance at one for a few short seconds and then form a conclusion about what the image is meant to convey. For some imagery, this quick assessment of its message is necessary, such as with road signs or warning labels. A lot of imagery, however, contains much more than that which can be understood with just a glance.

    Every image has a focal point, a spot that the eye is initially drawn to. Some might think that this focal point shows the intended story the image is trying to tell. However, I find that it’s all the little details of an image that really rounds out the story, and sometimes can even change the message completely.

    For this first image, I began “reading” it by allowing my eye to fall on the focal points. The father pig is the largest part of the photo, and the others are looking at him, so he becomes the first thing I assess. The next detail I noticed was the blood on his shirt, and then my brain attempted to read the expressions on the other pigs’ faces to see if they were concerned about the blood. It wasn’t until after I took in the pigs that I noticed the wolf in the window. The wolf’s presence changes the story completely. In all the classic fairy tales, the wolf is the bad guy. When I first saw the blood on the large pig’s shirt, I thought that he had been up to something sinister. Seeing the wolf however and knowing the history of fairy tale wolves and pigs, I now assume that the big pig was attacked by the wolf and fought him off. The concern on the kids faces is no longer “what horrible thing did daddy do?” It becomes, “daddy how do we get out of this situation?” Even after fully reading this image, I am still unsure about the story it is meant to tell. The blood on the pig’s nice suit creates an eerie feeling that feels like it goes beyond the classic tale of pig vs wolf. The fact that the phone is on the table but not in use also adds depth to the story. Why wouldn’t the pig call for help upon seeing the wolf outside? Maybe it’s more complicated than that.

    I read the second image in a similar way. My eye is initially drawn to the smoke, and the first thing I think of upon seeing smoke from a city on the water is 9/11. Just like how I went to check the faces of the pigs next for context clues, I now look at the faces of the people in the image. I was expecting them to be shocked and upset, but they look like they are having a great time. The contrast between the smoke and the people relaxing and socializing in the sun is unsettling. My brain can’t seem to piece the two parts of the image together and it makes me wonder if the smoke is photoshopped into it. This questioning of the image’s truth brings me to Plato.

    Plato believed that images were “a long way removed from truth,” (Plato et al., Republic), and based on these two images alone I would have to agree with him. Both images have an unsettling feeling to them that makes me believe I do not know the whole story. The fact is though, that even if I were able to talk to the people (or pigs) in these images and hear their side of things, that still wouldn’t be the whole truth. Everyone has their own version of reality, their own perception of events. Artists, and their images, depict their truth. They show a glimpse into how they view reality and what they deem important or interesting. It is not fair then, for Plato to attack artists and icons as the sole deceivers of society. I don’t believe artists were even trying to capture “the truth”. They were simply showing the world how they viewed things, and it’s up to the ones viewing the image to take from it what they want.

    Want more information about Plato’s theories of art? This blog sums it up nicely. Plato’s Theories of Art

  • The Writing Process

    Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

    Whenever I embark on writing a work of fiction, I find myself struggling with my character development. My characters often take on qualities of the people in my own life; or if I attempt a first person narrative, they end up sounding just like me. Therefore, my writing research question is:

    How do authors develop their characters?

    I began by reading the interviews of some of my favorite authors, ones that I know have well-rounded and deeply developed characters in their books. Let’s start with Neil Gaiman, the prolific and adored science fiction author of books like American Gods and Neverwhere

    Gaiman was asked about the character of Shadow, the protagonist of the book American Gods. The interviewer asks, “Let’s start with Shadow, who could be analyzed on several levels. How did you create the character of Shadow?”

    Here is part of Gaiman’s response.  “I thought that I would merely write how events strike a person and how they change him, and I will go from there … One of the things I found when writing Shadow is that he has no personality unless he’s with somebody. At which point he will adopt a personality, or occasionally mirror them.” (N. Gaiman, Writerswrite.com).

    You can read the rest of the interview here.

    This idea, that Shadow becomes a mirror to those he is with, is even reflected in the art on the book cover. We only see the back of him as he faces the storm of events that brew inside the book’s pages.

    (McKean, Dave. Cover Illustration. 2001)

    I find it interesting that Gaiman would begin by writing the character’s responses to events and other people. I always envisioned that an author sat down and sketched out all a character’s traits, likes, and dislikes before engaging them in situations or conversations. For the development of Shadow, it was actually the opposite of how I pictured it.

    Gaiman isn’t the only author who writes his characters this way. In an interview with Orson Scott Card, again by Writerswrite.com, he details a similar process. “You don’t write characters, you write relationships. In practice this means that you must let characters have their own purposes and agendas, not just do what the plot requires, … nobody is the same person to everyone — who they are depends in large part on whom they’re with.” (O.S. Card, Writerswrite.com).

    So, both of these authors allow their storylines to define and create the characters within them. This process makes a lot of sense, and I suppose it is more realistic than my original theory; that each character was fully mapped and developed in an author’s mind before the story line begins. In life, we do not come into the world with a pre-determined set of characteristics and responses. We are molded by our environments and by the events that happen in our lives. We learn how to react to the world from the people in our lives and we are shaped by our relationships more than most realize.  

    Learning this about character development has me excited to try my hand at it again! Characters, like people and personalities, do not exist in a bubble. They are constantly reacting to and being shaped by the world around them. The key is to write the situation, or an event, first. Throw your hazily defined character into it and see how they react and evolve!

    Works Cited:

    White, Claire  E. “Orson Scott Card Interview.” Writers Write, https://www.writerswrite.com/journal/orson-scott-card-9992.

    White , Claire E. “Interview with Neil Gaiman: American Gods, Coraline and More!” Writers Write, https://www.writerswrite.com/journal/neil-gaiman-7011.

  • What is the Purpose of Higher Education?

    As long as I can remember, it was expected of me to attend college after high school. According to my father, if you had the means to do so, then it would have been unthinkable not to pursue a college degree. I spent my first year after high school taking basic credits at my local community college; then I applied and was accepted to Colorado State University as a Liberal Arts student. The degree I wanted to receive varied widely in those first few semesters. I started out thinking that I would be a journalist. An intro to environmental studies class made me briefly consider switching to natural resources. Eventually I landed on a Sociology degree with a concentration in environmental studies. At the time, I envisioned myself enacting social changes that would better our relationship with the environment around us. I wanted to be the person that got plastic bag bans put onto ballets, or enforced the monitoring of a company’s carbon footprint. To be honest, I think I fell into that degree because I had friends in a lot of the classes, and because it felt like a noble and relevant degree to have. Since graduating in 2013, I have done absolutely nothing related to Sociology or environmental studies.

    So, what was the purpose then, of my higher education? Economically speaking, my time in college was a failure. I haven’t been able to pay back my student loans and I haven’t had any sort of career that has helped shape the world around me in a meaningful way. If you were to ask Paulo Freire however, he would say that I achieved my purpose in pursuing higher education and that I am a more well-rounded citizen because of it.

    Paulo Freire, author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed

    According to Giroux in his article Rethinking Education as the Practice of Freedom: Paulo Freire and the Promise of Critical Pedagogy, Freire’s view of education is

    “Concerned with providing students with the skills and knowledge necessary for them to expand their capacities first to question the deep-seated assumptions and myths that legitimate the archaic and disempowering  social  practices  structuring  every  aspect  of  society  and  then  to  take  responsibility for intervening in the world they inhabit.” (Giroux, 718).

    Freire held critical thinking, self-reflection, and civic imagination in the highest regards. I, without a doubt, feel that I learned all of these tools in my liberal arts classes. In the jobs I have held since then, I have easily been promoted to managerial positions time and again because of my ability to use these tools. I have never taken information at face value and enjoy delving into a subject myself to form my own opinion on the matter. I pride myself on being an active member of society. One who can imagine a world beyond this reality, who can see through the “fake news” and political agendas, who can seriously partake in self-reflection in order to analyze my past mistakes and grown from them.

    Those who oppose Freire’s critical pedagogy theory would argue that yes, perhaps I have gained those tools; but is knowledge alone enough to make me a contributing member of society? In an article published by Leftvoice.org, the author argues that “It’s hard to see how simply posing the problems of racism, low wages, climate apocalypse, etc., to average people would lead them to formulate a single viable solution.” (Gregory, A Critique of ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’). They think that Freire is too idealistic in his belief that giving the gift of critical thinking will spur people into action. Yes, I may be able to self-reflect on my position in the economic hierarchy. Yes, I can think critically about the news and the facts. Have I actually done anything to change what I see as unjust? Not really, and so according to those that hold a market-driven view of education, I am a non-contributor.

    I would like to whole-heartedly believe in Freire’s theories. I do think that critical thinking and self-reflection are necessary tools that every person should learn, and I am grateful for my Sociology degree for giving me those. I also agree with him that it is a failure for schools to center their education around standardized testing and economic impacts. I am not sure, however, if education as Freire poses it, is enough to create contributing members of society. Part of me thinks that I could have gained those same tools from a route other than higher education, from a personal mentor for example, which would not have left me in as much student debt as I am in now.

    My ideal version of higher education would include all of Freire’s ideas, as well as some real-world training. I wish it had been required of me as a Liberal Arts major to learn finances. Freire believes that education should provide students with the tools to have a “self-managed life”, but it’s difficult to feel self-managed when nobody taught me how to do my own taxes or make financial investments. Even basic trade classes, such as Plumbing 101, would aid in me living a self-managed life. Freire’s views on education are beautiful, but perhaps not the most realistic for today’s world.

    -Samantha Maas

    Works Cited:

    Giroux, Henry A. “Rethinking Education as the Practice of Freedom: Paulo Freire and the Promise of Critical Pedagogy .” Policy Futures in Education, vol. 8, no. 6, 2010, pp. 715–720., http://www.wwwords.co.uk/PFIE. Accessed 25 Jan. 2023.

    Gregory, Kendall. “A Critique of ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’.” Left Voice, Seattle Revolutionary Socialists , 15 Aug. 2022, https://www.leftvoice.org/a-critique-of-pedagogy-of-the-oppressed/.