Pinker Prompt Response

Pinker writes, “a coherent text is a designed object.” In The Sense of Style, he elaborates this point, telling the reader that writing must be connected logically.

This is often problematic. I find connecting writing most difficult when one must write freely, without an outline. I am what one would call, “a planner.” After analyzing a prompt, I write a rough sketch for what I want to include in my paper along with a thesis . Then, I’ll begin planning the meat of the piece. My preferred method is taking notes on the sources, whether they be academic or primary. I write down interesting (and hopefully relevant) quotes, along with the page numbers. From those, I look for common themes and group the information accordingly; I find it satisfying when they align perfectly with my initial sketch.

Then I progress to the outline. The themes become headings of the paper, and I then write points with the quotes or paraphrases from the sources underneath. Page numbers are of course, present.

I’ve noticed this method is effective for writing the body of a paper, but is not very helpful for the introduction. I find it most challenging to introduce a topic. Oftentimes, I write the introduction after having written the paper. Unfortunately with that method, the introduction and summary are nearly identical.

This has been my technique for history and anthropology papers. Other than a creative writing class, I have not written in another style.

This Honors class has challenged my preconceived notion for the superiority of the outline. I am more willing to attempt clustering when I am stuck. A clustering activity is particularly useful when ending a paper, as my troubles have suggested, or even coming up with a topic (as the particular instance I am going to write about will show). This past weekend, I wrote a three page essay on propaganda in Nazi Germany (for class German 112).

I originally wanted to write the paper on the Shutzstaffel, more commonly known as the SS. I thought it would be simple: split the paper into a section on history, then leaders, then divisions and their duties, and then their fate after the Second World War. However, three pages is quite limited, and I realized – surrounded by four books on the topic – there was no way I would be able to limit myself. I needed something more precise. I wrote down associations with the word Nazi. When I wrote down the name, Joseph Goebbels, propaganda came to mind. That was a topic which could be concise. A section on the propaganda minister, another on the types of media used, and one more on its common themes. That was my paper idea, and I was then able to outline efficiently.

However, I skipped the introduction to write the body of the paper and the conclusion.

A day after having written the paper, I went back to edit. I deleted my summary paragraph, due it’s total redundancy, and began anew. Some themes needed to be reiterated, which I stated. The ending however, per my professor’s instructions, required thoughts and observations on the topic. I played another game of word associations. Propaganda – advertizing! Joseph Goebbels was selling a product, and that product was National Socialism.

Writing this blog post, I realized how satisfying it is to implement ideas learned in one class for another. I have also been able to practice the free-write, and not be intimidated by a lack of outline.

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Moore Writing Prompt and analysis

I first noticed the difference in texture: the rust toned side of the pot sherd was smooth and pleasant to the touch, while its darker counterpart was jagged and rough. I held the uneven side face up and looked closer to see several small black squares dotting it. To my delight, a few silvery remnants of shell clung to their corresponding squares – this was an example of the aptly named shell tempered pottery. I placed the sherd in a pile with its kind and picked up another rust colored piece, this one with a smooth lip. I traced my fingers over the red-side and to my surprise, felt several rough grooves. I brought the piece under my desk’s magnifying glass, and my heart jumped. There was a centuries old fingerprint.

The sherd most likely came from a pot for cooking, as it had been found near many fire-cracked rocks. The fingerprint immediately brought to my mind pictures of Native lives. Someone in Fort Atkinson Wisconsin, hundreds of year ago, had sat down to shape the item. It was used, most likely every day, in someone’s home. I wonder what happened to the people, if they perished in a war or disease, or lived had quiet lives.

This is my response to a prompt in Dinty W. Moore’s Truth of the Matter.

When I am asked to write about something, archaeology is the first topic to come to my mind. Sometimes I worry that this makes me dull, or that others will view me as “that kid who really needs to get a hobby.”

Honestly, I have no wish to contain my excitement.

I do enjoy writing creative fiction and memories from vacations (I absolutely love Disney). With archaeology, I am incredibly eager to present the fascinating components of human history. Part of me is defensive. A lot of people criticize those who study the past, and find the subject boring (they’ll suggest it’s useless). Maybe an essay I’ll write will reach one person who wouldn’t have given a topic a second thought. I’m not out to change the world, or become famous. I simply want to share knowledge and my passion.

The descriptive component to this exercise is incredibly valuable. It allows for something that others might see as mundane to be brought to life. Connections can be formed that would not have existed otherwise. Part of a duty of an archaeologist is show their findings to the public. I’ve learned that without engaging prose, they do not have a much of a chance for success.

Sentence Exercise

There’s a delightful flush that creeps up your neck and dances on your cheeks; your heart begins to pound a bit, and there is an exquisite flood of adrenaline, heightening your senses while making you dizzy at the same time; your face splits into a ridiculous grin – no matter how much you try to contain it (biting your lip, curling your hands into fists to feel your nails against flesh) – that smile is lighting up your face; your eyes are glimmering, pupils dilated; maybe your palms begin to sweat – how embarrassing – and when you look down at your tennis shoes you notice that there is a spring in your step; when they talk they have your total attention, and you relish the sound of their voice – everything is fascinating, and oh it is glorious and melodious, and you feel warm when they look at you, and you have to fight the urge to smile, nod, and God no – giggle; when you make eye contact you end up feeling completely mortified, while simultaneously wondering if they think the same thing about you; your fantasies involve them realizing that you’re their perfect mate, their true love; you imagine your wedding, what dress you’ll wear, who’ll be there, the flowers in your bouquet – you’ve written your names together in a notebook, embarrassingly with a heart surrounding it, and you pray and hope that they may somehow manage a feeling with a fragment of the intensity that you have for them – oh goodness, what insanity a crush is!

Non-fiction Story Ideas

  1. Archaeology
    1. There is a question in archaeology of “who owns the past.” Where do the artifacts belong? In Western museums, or in the countries’ where they originally resided? This is a question of ethics, needing exploration. The arguments are best demonstrated with the example of Egypt. Britain, France, and Germany looted artifacts. However, now, the artifacts are in danger with the political instability of the region.
  2. Tea
    1. I am interested in the treatment of people who harvest this plant. An idea for a story is the exploration of the lives of the farmers. What challenges do they face?
  3. Cats
    1. As a cat-companion (cats do not really have owners) I am concerned about their welfare. In West Allis, there is a wonderful cat shelter run by volunteers. Their story would be fantastic to capture.
  4. Dinosaurs
    1. I have loved dinosaurs since I was four years old. Writing about the excavation of Sue the T-Rex would be of great interest.
  5. Historical Fiction
    1. It would be fascinating to explore the hallmarks of good historical fiction.
  1. Education
    1. As someone who has never enjoyed math, I would be interested in writing about different methods of increasing mathematical literacy. What are common complaints students have about learning the subject? What is being done to address their needs?
  2. Feminism
    1. Is feminism and religion compatible? I would like to compare and contrast different religions and their views and treatments of women. Pagan religions, such as Wicca, would be of great value.
  3. Disney
    1. I would enjoy writing about a past trip, ride, resort, or restaurant review in Disney World. Some particular topics would be the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, The Boardwalk, Epcot’s Countries, the Everest Ride, and Chef de France.
  4. Traveling
    1. I am interested in traveling to Germany one day. I would love to write an itinerary of a dream-trip to the country.
  5. Conservation (wild animals)
    1. A piece detailing big cat or orang conservation efforts would be fantastic to write.

Memory of Paris

The streets ran several inches thick with the blood of aristocrats and dissidents. Two hundred and fifty years later, the Wehrmacht goosestepped their way down the Champs de Elysee. My trip to Paris was quite a bit more peaceful than the French Revolution or the Second World War, but nevertheless, it was exhilarating.

I easily recall a surge of adrenaline when the plane landed in Charles de Gaulle. In a few moments, our school’s AP European History/AP Literature class would step onto French… concrete. The rain added to the grey hue surrounding the airport. This didn’t really dampen my spirits, or the spirits of fifteen jet-lagged students. We were abuzz with excitement. The French language flitted in the air; it was unfamiliar, almost exotic to a group of Midwesterners.

The most profound moment of the trip occurred the day we arrived (our guide believed the best cure for jet-lag was sleep deprivation). We were to explore the Louvre. In America, I had never seen anything quite to that scale. The museum, which was considered the most dowdy and cramped of the palaces by royalty, was massive. The outside walls were carved with statues. The rain had disappeared at that point, allowing the magnificent glass pyramid to shine. My breath hitched. In moments, I would be entering this sacred (sacred at least, to a history-lover) location. I would, and did see, canvases that Leonardo Da Vinci caressed. At the statue of Ptolemy, tears began to flow. One of my favorite historical figures, Queen Cleopatra, had most likely nodded her head to this ancestor. The parquet floor in the Grand Gallery made me laugh, as it had been immortalized in The Da Vinci Code. I made a point to look at the paintings featured in the movie.

I know my memories of Paris and the Louvre are not without fault. Without a doubt, the sequence of events may be incorrect. I may have even inserted some things I saw at Versailles (such as ceilings) into the Louvre. However, I feel that the emotions present in my memory are not fictionalized.

I must have sobbed tears of joy over five times that day (perhaps some of my weepiness had been caused by want of sleep). As I type this, I am smiling. I can see the images flash through my mind, and even feel a pleasant shudder. I was there, in that gorgeous alien world. Nothing where I live comes close to the beauty and prestige of that location. It is a memory I can never forget.

Wit and aphorisms

Cleverness is an admired trait in humans.

We praise members of our society for their wit. The existence of a literary device, the aphorism, is an example of this venerated quality. An aphorism is a concise (as brevity is the source of wit) statement of truth or an opinion; one of its key components is an element of humor. We like these quick sayings, often teaching them to children. When sardonic, an aphorism is sure to elicit a laugh from a group of friends.

Needless to say, this creates tremendous pressure on the creator of such a saying, or any funny saying in general.

Humor is a desirable trait. Make a person laugh aloud, and often they will develop a positive opinion of you. Fail to make a joke correctly, and you are punished with a variety of pitying (or occasionally enraged) looks. Dating advice magazines and websites assure us that humor is an important part of a relationship (and is certainly needed for parenthood).

I feel fear when I need to be clever for a written piece. In person (especially after a few moments of chatting), it is not difficult to gauge what will make another individual laugh. The witty little jokes and truths fall into place easily. But whether on paper or keyboard, a certain amount of anxiety begins to rise. The online audience is faceless. There is no chance to watch the ticks on the face. If their eyes reveal a readiness to laugh, or if they grimace when a certain topic is brought up. Instead, you are writing and hoping (praying?) that you elicit a laugh from someone. Not a bored yawn or a shrug.

Aliens and Archaeology

I find it difficult to understand the minds of extra terrestrials. They have wondrous technology – allowing them to travel light-years. Yet their form of entertainment appears to be making humans design lines on the ground (of species found on our planet) and lift twenty-five-ton monoliths into a circle. Never mind that people are perfectly capable of using a grid pattern to design large-scale images. In addition, utilizing rollers and waterways are known transportation methods for megaliths.

My sarcastic nature aside, the assumption that aliens aided our “primitive” ancestors is a dangerous one to have. It is arrogant, ethnocentric, and quite often, racist. Only modern man has the tools and the intellectual ability to solve these engineering/architecture problems. Especially modern western man. Convinced that we are the pinnacle of civilization, we balk at the idea that our ancestors are just as ingenious. As my introduction to archaeology teacher pointed out, “to make a perfect circle, all you need is a stick and a string.” Supernatural explanations, though they make for interesting movies, should not be the first we turn to. The field of experimental archaeology is devoted to devising and testing hypotheses regarding uses and creation of artifacts and features (the latter refers to a non-portable object, such as an alter).

The alien explanation is not good science. It is a fantasy that is unable to be tested, and does not give credit where credit is due. Why people would rather marvel at the thought E.T is showing our ancestors how to build pyramids (ramps!) instead of wondering at the intelligence and creativity of the human mind, I do not know.

Sources:

Feder, Kenneth L. Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology. New Work: McGraw-Hill, 2011. Print.