The Artist is a Wizard!

A few weeks ago I made a visit to a friend of mine who lives in Shakopee Minnesota. His name is Rob, and one might say that he is the quintessential oppressed male of 21st century American society. I say oppressed, because although he is hesitant to use that term to describe himself, it is certainly a position he holds: He has a crippling porn addiction, struggles with serious paranoia and depression, has trouble forming intimate relationships (according to him, this is because of the danger surrounding our idea of consent in courtship), and he is very interested in traditional games – board games, D&D, video games, etc.

Our conversations together are usually quite open, sometimes political, and sufficiently geeky. He doesn’t have an education, and his job pays poorly; he is trying to change these things. For most of his life he held a prejudice against the very idea of college, his notion being that they had a monopoly on higher education. Very briefly, this position is untenable because not every college answers to a central governing body. Regardless! Rob is quite a smart man when he’s talking about his games, even if I think his opinions are a bit swampy.

So imagine him: about six feet tall, long flowing locks of brown hair, Minnesota-winter-grade beard, glasses.

And I ask him one simple question: “In order to cast a spell in Dungeon’s and Dragons, does the spell caster have to understand the words of the spell?”

Now clearly, this query has a place in the hall of fame of pointless questions, but I wanted to know what exactly made spells in D&D magical. I knew there was a linguistic component to casting spells in many fantasy realms, and as a disciple of language (an English major) I was very interested in this aspect. So in my mind, there were two possible explanations for the magic of words in D&D:

  1. The language of the spell has to be interpreted by the user/target correctly, because language itself, to be useful at all, must be interpreted. (No word has objective meaning).
  2. The language of the spell does NOT have to be interpreted, because spells are much like coding reality. The interpreter is a God, or some other entity that curates the laws of the universe.

Rob’s claim was the latter, and at some point he said (but he will deny it) that the whole world of D&D is predicated on the world-shattering possibility of some malicious or careless individual obtaining a Wizard’s spells. A Wizard, he said, does not write in a common language. He writes in Draconic, which is a totally superior language, and he doesn’t even write in neat Draconic. He writes like a madman – like Leonardo Da’Vinci – encoding his spells by writing backwards, in the margins, blanketing his pages with prose or poetry that is not nonsense only to him. So the wizard is, supposedly, master of his own spell book. His entirely unique way of writing is perhaps the magical aspect he imbibes in his language. Moreover, when the wizard prepares these spells, he must wake up early in the morning, brew a cup of coffee, and actually read his work out loud, loading each individual spell, and stopping before reaching the last word. Because once the last word of a spell is spoken, the spell is cast, and so the wizard walks around the rest of his day with his party with his head full of spells that wait for the last magical word.

The Wizard is undoubtedly a master of language in the D&D universe. But is he not also a madman? And isn’t it by sheer virtue of his madness that his spells are magical? Because I find it unsatisfactory to chalk all of this magic business in fantasy worlds to the explanation that magic simply is. Draconic is simply a magic language, and therefore any Draconic that is spoken is a spell. How boring! What you’ve given me is a cop out!

Here’s something: The poet, the writer, the artist is a wizard.

The highest achievement any artist can attain is a revolution in language, a creation of something entirely new in the way we perceive the sentence, words, or even aesthetic principles. In the same way, they might write like madmen, and scribble fervently like the wizard inscribing his spells into his spell book.

But when, say, a poet reads their work, they too cast spells. Their words and syntax, the tone of their voice, their pacing – all of this accumulates and acts its influence upon the minds of the listeners. The poet’s spell is a wave of energy that injects feeling into others, and what this feeling may be depends entirely on the poem and wizard.

But even rhetoric is magical, perhaps the most sinister of magic there is. Take for example the 2016 election. Many of Trump’s base heavily criticized Barrack Obama for being a smooth talker and speaking in a rather high-class manner. These people saw through the spell cast by Obama’s linguistic abilities or were simply immune to it. But, listen to Trump, who casts his own spell with simpler language and with a less formal rhetorical approach, and suddenly we realize that these same people are equally enraptured by what is only a different species of linguistic expression that influences people.
Now, I realize my blog posts are quite erratic these days. But I find the analogy of the wizard as writer-artist fascinating and useful. It wrenches open the possibilities of what we can do with language, and after all, what’s the point of the writer? Are they malicious? Do they want to control the way people think? Do they want to teach? What do they want their spells to do? That is perhaps a better question than asking:

“What do you want to say?”

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The Creative Non-Fiction Writer is a Psychologist.

I’m currently sitting in my office at Bemidji State University. It’s the end of the semester. Commencement was a few hours ago, and my desk and shelves that were once burdened with countless books for research projects are now barren.

It was my first academic year teaching writing and argument, and due to the immense amount of stress and anxiety over this induction into the instruction aspect of education, I started smoking again. But none of this is really the point of this post.

This spring, I also composed approximately forty pages of creative non-fiction for a class I did not want to take. BSU’s English department is a bit starved; we have especially few options available to us for the classes that work towards our degree.

Anyway, it is an aspiration of most English majors in my department to one day become well known writers. Sometimes we talk about technique, style, character development, and these other terms we use to describe how one might improve their writing. Sometimes, the old charitable wisdom of great writers such as Stephen King is thrown around: If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all else: read a lot and write a lot. Good stuff, you might say! How else does a writer improve their craft if they don’t live and breathe language as if the very stuff were air?

This might work for fiction writers, but the quirky thing about creative non-fiction is that the material is largely based on the writer’s subjective, personal experience. Reading memoirs and the like is useful for developing your craft and instigating your ability to comprehend the way a writer employs language in their story, but it won’t help you understand your own story, and it certainly won’t help you understand the characters (ostensibly real people) in your life. Creative non-fiction is largely dependent, then, on how you go about transcribing your experience, and it can only be facilitated by how you actually experience the world. So perhaps the role of the creative non-fiction writer is to, in addition to reading and writing a lot, find ways to better understand their rich experience as it unfolds before them in the present moment.

Journaling or dairying is often noted as a technique to facilitate one’s understanding and memory. But what else is there?

The 19th century Russian fiction writer Fyodor Dostoevsky has often been called a psychologist. This prompted me to think about character development in stories. Believable characters are believable because they exhibit psychological and behavioral phenomena that closely resembles what we observe in reality. When people call Dostoevsky a psychologist, they aren’t referencing an illustrious career in empirical observation or some theory for understanding the human mind. They are referencing the deep psychological landscape that pervades human experience, represented in a story with exceptionally complex characters. And to know this landscape, one must probe oneself, probe the characters themselves, look to other characters in great literature, and even consult the people in their own lives.

But how do we understand the people in our own lives? This is my suggestion, which might not come as a surprise: you approach people as if you were a clinical psychologist. You ask them about their lives, and follow up with questions that necessarily lead them to expand even further upon aspects of their life that perhaps they themselves haven’t considered in detail. You take interest in people just like you do in characters.

This seems absurdly obvious to some writers. Writers love to gossip, and they revel in the messy deep details of life. But some writers, especially the hermits, are hesitant to integrate scientific understanding into their approach to writing. I’m not a clinical psychologist by any stretch of the imagination, but learning a questioning technique in your approach to meeting and conversing with people seems to have some apparent value in writing creative non-fiction.

Here’s some dialogue; an example of how I attempt to question others to facilitate my understanding of them:

We were standing outside, smoking cigarettes. A woman with short hair, glasses, on the bigger side, wearing all black. Me, haven’t shaved in a weak, hair shocked by wind and stress, wearing a plain t-shirt. The woman had just got off the phone with her mother; the conversation was about how all those assholes she went to high school with were doing nothing with their lives.

“So,” I said. “The fact that those kids are working at McDonalds and gas stations – does it really mean that their lives are objectively less valuable? Don’t people have a range of interests and capabilities?”

“Oh, well there’s nothing wrong with people working at those places, but it’s just that those were the kids who talked about going on and doing great things after high school. But they didn’t, and that’s the point, I guess.”

“Well, does everyone in the world have to aspire to greatness?”

“No, I don’t think so, but I just find it ironic that these people who did aspire, failed. And you know, these were the kids that bullied me pretty badly, so I have no sympathy. And here I am in college, and they’re flipping burgers.” She smiled.

“It’s in the past, though, isn’t it?” I said. “Why harbor resentment and hold some concept of superiority over them like they did to you, just because you’re in college?”

“Yeah, I guess so. Maybe I shouldn’t care so much. But its hard to forgive people, you know.”

“Yeah, I suppose. Where did you go to school?” I asked.

“In some lonely town in northern Minnesota. Really conservative.”

“What was your class size like?” I asked.

“Like 30 people. It was really exclusionary. Like, if you weren’t into sports you were ostracized and bullied. It was really hard to make friends if you’re different.”

“How did they bully you?” I asked.

My approach in this conversation was that of a mirror to expose the experience and thinking of the person I’m talking with. Most people, if they like talking, are very inclined to do this anyway, which makes my approach quite easy to execute. But you have to listen very closely to what the other person says to ask increasingly meaningful questions.

But already in the conversation as transcribed above some interesting things are being revealed. Firstly, the woman has disclosed a portion of her past – that of her high school experience. This includes the type of school she went to, how she was treated, and the overall culture of the school and how it related to the politics of rural northern Minnesotan communities. Moreover, the woman has expressed how she feels about the experience now that she has been distanced from it, and these feelings are rather complicated. Perhaps she’s a bit petty when she expresses her resentment towards the failures of her classmates who hurt her. But she knows this is petty, and internally she is struggling with the idea of actually forgiving the people who excluded her. With repeated interactions, we can begin to find patterns in thinking. These patterns allow us to predict future behavior, and this is exactly what a fiction/non-fiction writer does. Real characters have patterns of behavior. To be believable they have to be consistent.

Some objections? This sure seems shady. It seems like you’re literally mining people for writing material. This may be true, but you’re showing a genuine interest in people’s lives, which is a very rare thing to experience in this digital age of ours. Most people only want to talk about themselves and avoid listening to others. Your psychological mining is actually helping their mental state, because assuming their honest, they are opening up in a way that is personal and insightful to both of you.

And you know, I’ve always wondered why so many English majors consider going into psychology. Perhaps this post serves as some type of answer that is more clearly defined in scholarship.

Thoughts on Metamorphoses by Ovid, and Paradise Lost by John Milton

I’ve been diligently reading through some ancient literature this summer. Some strange urge has come over me to read every notable epic poem in existence, particularly the ones my professors neglected or didn’t have time to teach during my time at school. Recently I read Ovid’s Metamorphoses as translated by David R Slavvit, and Paradise Lost by John Milton. Ordinarily I would provide thoughts on these works individually as an act of synthesis and reconciliation. I guess that’s what this post is. I’ll be comparing both works in an arbitrary fashion.

Metamorphoses is total chaos of tales. I had some idea of what to expect before reading it, knowing that there was no real primary narrative and that it was a collection of intertwined stories more than one great plot line. I found reading Ovid’s work is very difficult, because I traditionally rely on connecting plot points in a narrative to form a particular structure of how I remember the story as a whole. Metamorphoses jumps from story to story, using ancient Greek and roman myths, gods, and heroes is its primary subject matter. Ovid pulls from Homer, Hesiod, Virgil (i think), and certain Grecian playwrights as well to form his miniature narratives. Ovid’s twist on these familiar tales is the transformation of the characters in these stories, typically as the plot line comes to an end. There are a lot of transformations into birds and trees. Apollo and Zeus pressure (or force) many mortals into sex, Athena sucks at sewing, etc etc.

I’ve heard that Metamorphoses has had a vast impact on art and literature throughout history, but after reading the work itself it has becoming blatantly clear just how influential it really is. A few months ago I read The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, in which the two main characters transform into Satan and the archangel Gabriel. But beyond the easy implemented transformation theme, The Satanic Verses also divides its main plot lines with a collection of stories that are inspired by ancient lore, much like Metamorphoses. These side narratives in Rushdie’s novel, which can ultimately be referred to as “dream narratives,” is a point of controversy and confusion for some readers. The dream narratives seem out of place since they do not progress the main plot line in any way. However, if Ovid has taught us anything about literature, storytelling, and art in general, I think it is quite clear that a main narrative doesn’t even need to exist. In my opinion, Rushdie implements the idea of mini narratives ingeniously.

Paradise Lost by Milton is obviously influenced by Metamorphoses as well. In Milton’s famous poem, he rewrites part of Genesis in epic verse. The story of Satan’s fall from heaven, and his journey to Earth in order to corrupt Man are the building blocks of the main story line, with very little deviation (of course there is an epic digression in which the angel Raphael tells of Satan’s military coupe and failure to Adam). Milton uses the transformation theme from Ovid, by giving Satan and the angels the ability to change their shape. In this way, Satan reflect the godlike figures in Metamorphoses, since Zeus Apollo, and many other gods use their powers of transformation to seduce and confuse mortals. The metamorphosis of Satan into the serpent that seduces Eve directly reflects the seduction of Grecian gods in the ancient myths. Near the end of Paradise Lost, Satan’s host of evil angels transforms into an army of serpents against their will, in what seems like a punishment from the Almighty. This is also clearly an influence drawn from Ovid’s work, because many of the transformations in Metamorphoses are bestowed on mortals as punishment from the gods.

 

Thoughts on Alexander Popes translation of The Odyssey

My posting frequency has decreased dramatically due to overwhelming responsibilities in my life. Lately, I’ve been wanting to write daily, but its difficult to find the time. It’s pretty distressing actually. Not having time or energy to write feels terrible. And so the stagnation sets in.

As far as reading goes, I’ve attempted to digest The Sound And The Fury by William Faulkner, and met with supreme failure. Reading the first section of this book is jarring, because of its narrative complexity. Faulkner’s stream of consciousness style is hard to follow at times, so I re-shelved him for now. In its place, I began reading Alexander Pope’s English translation of The Odyssey. I’ve read other translations of this text before, but Alexander Pope’s version is quite incredible. For those who might not be familiar with this piece, perhaps the most notable aspect of Pope’s translation is his use of rhyming couplets throughout the whole work. Pope’s word choice also fascinates me; his translation is by far my current favorite. Flowery language and verse aside, I’d like to share a few unremarkable notes on the structure of The Odyssey.

The Odyssey begins with Odysseus’ son Telemachus and his struggles with a party of suitors. Upon first reading the story, the way this story begins might seem questionable. Because the narrative follows the Hero’s son for a considerable length, it feels like a needless digression. In part, The Odyssey is a coming of age story due to the immense stage time Telemachus possesses. He quests for knowledge about his father, attempts to regain control over his filial palace, and the goddess of wisdom attends him along the way. However much a digression this at first seemed to myself, I believe The Odyssey would be a less powerful story without it. The early books that detail Telemachus’ toils establish the ending. In the same way Odysseus makes a round trip from Ithaca to Troy, and back to Ithaca, the reader follows the same course by way of the narrative structure. This round trip builds significance in the story because after experiencing Ithaca, Telemachus, the suitors, and Penelope, etc, the audience gains an understanding of just how important Odysseus’ return is. It’s actually quite mind blowing how vital the event of Odysseus’ return becomes; it involves being absent twenty years, being afflicted with miseries of war and loss, being tossed at sea relentlessly by sea monsters, and discovering a party of boisterous losers courting his wife in his own home.

The early books of the Odyssey also build a considerable amount of tension and anticipation. The introduction of the hero is delayed, and talked of as if he were a legend by both men and gods. By centering the narrative away from Odysseus and placing him in the peripheral, the audience is expectant of his inevitable introduction. I think this element of anticipation makes The Odyssey incredibly interesting. The audience wonders about Odysseus, and cares about his experience before he is even introduced into the story. The peripheral nature of Odysseus expands his presence in the story – he gains critical mass, ascending to the position of celestial influence as the audience gains knowledge of Ithaca and his toils at sea.

Anyway, that’s all I have for now. I’m suffering from a fatal case of writers block, so if any of my readers (what readers?) have any suggestions for a topic or project I should tackle, let me know. I’m open for any and all suggestions. PEACE.

 

What can Jane Austen show us about the 21st Century?

I’m not exactly sure why I enjoy reading Jane Austen’s novels. Her work almost entirely revolves around marriage plots within 18th century English nobility. To many readers of my generation, the subject matter of Austen’s novels can be very boring. The narrative moves slowly, and nothing particularly exciting captivates our short attention spans. I enjoy reading Austen, but I don’t want this declaration to sound arrogant. After all, I really have no idea why I like reading about the marital status of rich people from another era. I just finished reading Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. This is the third work I’ve read by her, and I believe I am now capable of slowly beginning establish some observations about the world she describes in relation to our modern world.

It is apparent in Mansfield Park, and Austen’s work in general, that marriage and sexuality is topic of incredible significance. This stems from the value of inheritance in the English nobility. Optimally, when a young woman from a noble family is prepared for marriage, potential suitors have to meet certain standards (This is obviously also the case for men seeking women as well, but most of Austen’s protagonists are female). Money is obviously a key factor in seeking a desired mate – In Austen’s opinion, this obviously is not the most important factor in marriage, and she typically illustrates a character’s obsession with wealth as a flaw. Manners and morals are also important factors – this is actually a huge part of Austen’s work, because it is clear that as an author, she seems entirely alienated from lower and middle classes. Beauty and intelligence are also vital in relatively smaller degrees. In Austen’s plots, the most desired matches are the love interests that sprout within the English nobility. The attributes lightly detailed above are usually inherent in the families of baronets, barons, viscounts, etc. From what I can tell by reading Austen, it is this class system that enables interest in her readers. The English nobility is always the overarching principle or rules in which the gears of Austen’s novels operate.

I’d like to focus on one particular aspect of what is expected of an Austenian English noble, and how it might relate to how we conduct relationships in the twenty first century. Manners are a vital part of how the nobility are expected to act. I’d argue this is especially apparent when men and women form attractions to each other. In Austen’s novels, a degree of restraint is expected from a potential suitor. This is exemplified in Mansfield Park with the character Mr. Crawford, who is in the possession of a lot of money and independence, is intelligent, gallant, attractive, charismatic, and energetic, while also conforming to accepted notions of how to conduct oneself in the presence of English nobility. These attributes make him nearly an ideal match for almost any woman who interacts with him. Marrying such a man promises an exciting and secure existence. However, his flaw is in his tendency to be flirtatious. Mr. Crawford’s courting and flirting with particular characters in the novel is portrayed as a major breach in moral conduct (The effects of this breach is magnified by the fact that he flirts with women who are already engaged to be married). By our modern standards, Mr. Crawford’s flirting wouldn’t be considered at all improper. He flirts by way of his charisma in his conversations with ladies, and by showing a sense of attachment and friendship. The most sexually heated moments in Austen’s work are conversations between characters or, sometimes, the holding of a hand. The effect of all this in a literary work, is that illustrating the values of this restraint (which some characters lack) adds to the significance of the marriage plot. Sexual repression is quite obvious in Austen’s work, but I think this is partly why she is a powerful writer.

Similar to this idea of restraint in the manners of English nobility, is the immense sensitivity that seems to bleed from Austen’s writing. Too often I think we are too jaded in our modern times. Technology has dulled our senses to the (almost) utmost extreme. In Austen’s 18th century England, it is apparent that in addition to the fragile and strict structure of manners and morality in the English nobility, a degree of sensitivity also adds to the significance that is built in the marriage plot. The protagonist of Mansfield Park, Fanny, is perhaps Austen’s most sensitive character.  She was born to a rather poor family, but was brought to her rich uncle’s house at the age of ten in order to be, more or less, assimilated into the English nobility. Fanny arrives at the impressive Mansfield Park grounds with nervousness and reluctance. She is caught between her impoverished past, and her incredibly prosperous future, and constantly struggles with feelings of guilt because of her innate sensitivity and good nature. Throughout the novel, the reader follows Fanny’s life and changing situation at Mansfield Park. She is often the most powerless character, but she feels the most intensely. This is shown in how Austen simply describes how Fanny reacts to every notable event in the novel. Fanny trembles, blushes madly, cries, smiles, and loses sleep over what seems like trivial matters. A lot of what she reacts to has the importance of the English class system behind it – in other words, dire consequences having to do with place in society, money, etc. In this sense, it is understandable that such a sensitive character should react passionately. But Fanny reacts passionately to everything – she sometimes cries due to the guilt and shame of others. Fanny might be an extreme example of character sensitivity in Austen, but such intense responses can be observed in almost all of her characters. I think this sensitivity also adds a great deal of significance and interest to Austen’s work. Today, it seems as if human emotion is a mere shadow of what it once was in Austen’s time.

Thoughts on Herman Melville’s Moby Dick

Well, I survived my finals for the Spring 2016 semester. I’m quite proud of my performance in my classes. Although my final project for Weblogs and Wikis has ended, I’m still going to make an active effort to publish content on this blog. I’m starting to notice that I’m generally a happier person when I write regularly. Today I’m going to share a few thoughts about the novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

I’ve been steadily making my way through the English Lit canon, attempting to accumulate a body of knowledge about what is essentially a history of writing fiction. I consider myself to have a particularly refined taste when it comes to reading literature. I hope the previous statement doesn’t sound too arrogant. What I mean is, I generally enjoy reading classics – the masterpieces. The oldest works, in my opinion are typically the best. So when I decided to read Moby Dick, I was expecting to love it. This particular novel has what seems like a legendary reputation (at least in American Lit). I thought The Scarlet Letter was a masterpiece. I love Thoreau, Whitman, and Emerson. Of course I’ll love Melville – who hasn’t read Bartleby the Scrivener?

Initially, I did enjoy reading Moby Dick. The writing style was compelling; the first person narrative of Ishmael and Queequeg seeking a whaling voyage was interesting. Melville establishes many themes and plot lines very quickly, and as a reader, I couldn’t stop reading.

Of course. by the time the narrative shifts to the actual whaling voyage, the text shifts so dramatically that it blows my mind just to think about such a jarring change in a piece of literature. For those who have read Moby Dick, you know what I’m talking about. The narrator, Ishmael, goes off on long tangents about the logistics, history, strategies, etc of whaling voyages in the 1800’s. The novel becomes what is essentially a strategy guide for killing whales. The narrator considers Sperm Whales to be the most grand of all whales (and fish, generally). This brings the novel in a strange direction in which Ishmael praises the Sperm Whale for its potential wealth (Spermecetti from a Sperm Whale was an extremely valuable resource in those days).

Running parallel to the factual information  described above, there is of course, a primary narrative or plot line in the novel. The main focus of this plot line is captain Ahab’s obsession with the great White Whale, Moby Dick; because that godlike monster of the sea took Ahab’s leg. The reader receives many descriptions of Ahab’s thoughts and moods, while also describing relevant scenes about slaying Sperm Whales and interactions with other whaling vessels.

Obviously, Moby Dick is well written, and perhaps my biggest complaint about reading this text is particularly minor. The juxtaposition between encyclopedic information and main narrative is powerful – after all, without an extensive amount of information about whaling voyages, it would be nearly impossible to fully grasp the main plot line of Moby Dick. In this way, the novel is genius, and the departure from the main narrative can be considered necessary. However, in some ways, I feel as though the encyclopedic information totally eclipsed the main narrative.

Somewhat related to my last point, I noticed that the narrator Ishmael almost entirely disappears from the novel – his presence on board the Pequod is only useful because of his power as a narrator. Many times during this novel, I’ve asked myself: why doesn’t Melville just use a third person narrator? Why does he tie his narrator to this meaningless character Ishmael? After all, Ishmael narrates scenes and details that no human could possibly describe. He knows all about private conversations, soliloquies, deep feelings, thoughts – he’s godlike. However, since the whole God and knowledge theme is pretty blatant in the novel, Ishmael’s omniscience is not too surprising. At the moment, I’m considering Ishmael to be a physical manifestation of the Divine Being on board the Pequod. If this is a popular theory on Moby Dick, I would like to know about it. The most fascinating aspect of this novel has been trying to figure out just exactly who the narrator is.

I’m not quite finished reading Moby Dick, but I certainly have mixed feelings about this work. Perhaps my interest in it is waning due to my slow reading pace. I just started reading Mansfield Park by Austen. Oh Well.

Project Final Write Up: Mapping The Blogging Genre

Proposal and Method

My final project for Weblogs and Wikis (ENGL 3177) was titled “Mapping The Blog Genre.” In my project proposal, I detailed a strategy in which I would proceed with my so called “mapping.” Very briefly: the process included selecting a blogging topic, reading three to four weblogs, posting notes and analysis on various elements of those weblogs, and writing a compilation essay in which I drew on the aforementioned notes. At the end of each week, I was essentially hoping to define each blogging topic. I was looking for particular tendencies and similarities within each blogging topic in order to get a more clear idea about specific types of blogging. I was surprised to find that I was able to follow this format for the whole five weeks of this project. On each note-post, I divided my analysis into three sections: Identity and Theme, Multi-modality, Tags, Categories, Content arrangement, and Content Analysis. My Compilation Essay’s began with an introduction, followed by body paragraphs in which I detailed the most prominent or important similarities and observations among the blogs. I used this format on six blogging topics: Art, Creative Writing, Travel, Politics, Lifestyle, and Food.

What Happened

When I began this project, I was happy to discover that my posting format made it rather easy to keep up with posting. As long as I chose a blogging topic that was quite prolific in the blogosphere, I never struggled with producing posts. My project became stable in the sense that during most weeks, I wasn’t scratching my head for what to write about. I’m actually quite proud of this stability, because I’m guessing it means that my planning/proposal was rather well done. For the most part, the project was smooth sailing.

However stable my project was, from week one I was starting to think my work was trivial. The reason for this, was the simplicity and superficial nature of my note taking format. I thought of myself as an observer of the obvious. I took notes on the theme and about pages of certain blogs, mentioned multi-modality, tags, categories (a rather pointless observation in the end) and content. I felt as though many of my posts were boring to write and read, because it was all surface information that was simply being drawn from elsewhere – nothing new was being created. I think I expected this at first, since my “creation” was meant to be piled into compilation essays. Regular posts were meant to be surface level notes (in the beginning). While I do think my compilation essays were more interesting, I think I restricted my project in some ways by thrusting too much importance on them. About halfway through my project, I contacted our professor MC Morgan about switching projects simply because I thought this project was boring and trivial. He pointed out my lack of analysis in many of my posts, and that’s when I tried to modify my approach to lean towards analysis as much as I could. In my notes, I began speculating on why bloggers chose particular themes, methods of content arrangement, and content.

During these five weeks, I’ve received what I would consider a fair amount of interaction from the WordPress community. Early on in my project, I had a rule in which I would contact each blogger I took notes on. This sparked many comments from bloggers who expressed interest in my project, and gratefulness for having been written about. I also had a pretty “high” viewership at times. I’m guessing that most of the interest that individuals took in my project stemmed from the fact that I was basically promoting blogs. Even though I wasn’t in the act of promoting or reviewing blogs, I believe the mere mention of specific blogs drew readers to me.

What This Project Means for Me

I think I’ve learned a lot from this project. The discipline required for a post frequency of five posts per week is very demanding. After calculating the word-count out, I discovered that I was writing almost ten pages of material per week. That means this entire project has produced over fifty pages of content – to me, that’s insane. This schedule has made me realize that writing every day forms a valuable habit. I’ve also learned a lot about my waning interest in writing during the later stages of this project. At times, I began hating writing because I was so sick of the project. Again, this might have been due to my terribly boring process at first, but I think it becomes natural for any writer to eventually despise writing – it’s just something we can’t stop doing at some point.

I also believe I’ve collected a lot of valuable information about the elements of blogging. Throughout this project, I started to position myself as a reader; I began to analyze what impressions certain themes, content arrangement, and content would have on me. A theme becomes very important as an introductory statement. Organizational structures and sidebars have a convolution threshold before they become too confusing. By no means do I consider myself a blog connoisseur, but I do think that this information will assist me in creating a more efficient blog in the future.

What Does This Project Say About Blogging?

In a lot of ways, this project was an experiment of sorts. I wanted to see how I could define specific blogging topics much in the same way one would define the word “blog.” I would consider my results rather unreliable since each week consisted of a low sample size. Four blogs from one blogging topic is nothing compared to the hundreds or thousands needed to accurately define the tendencies of a blogging topic, especially since I restricted my search to WordPress (just for simplicity’s sake). In spite of this, I do think that I’ve pointed out some attributes of these topics that are actually quite valuable. My compilation essays address these attributes, but here I’ll attempt to articulate what I think it all means.

One example of a trend I noticed during my observations was the use of virtual galleries in art blogging. Two out of the four bloggers I covered formatted their blogs in such a way to showcase their artwork efficiently – either on separate pages or on their home page. As an artist, I believe there is tremendous value is presenting one’s work in this way since it’s organized, emphasizes images, and highlights artwork by removing superfluous elements such as text. I would say that virtual galleries in art blogging is tremendously useful and generally just a good thing to have. However valuable virtual galleries might be, does a blog that chooses not to use them becomes less of an art blog? Certainly not. What this means is that I think my project ultimately became less of an effort to define, and more of a effort to judge particular aspects of blogs. As a reader, I more often than not pointed out elements that were advantageous for a specific blogging topic instead of defining the topic as a whole. Virtual galleries are only one example of this.

Some of my observations were more definitive than others. For example, travel blogging almost always uses photography. In this blogging topic, it is so common to see bloggers sharing images of their travels that the line between photo album and travel blog has become blurred. Similar to virtual galleries, photography in travel blogging is advantageous for content and popularity. People are attracted to photos since they require less effort to interact with than whole bodies of text. Are there travel blogs that use no images? I’m sure there are, but I would argue that using images improves the travel blogging experience. In this way, my project has become a body of information that catalogs these various “advantageous” attributes. Creating a blog – from everything to theme, about pages, and content – is a very deliberate process. I think good blog authors should spend an enormous amount of energy on making important design choices. The information I’ve collected with this project might help others realize that the choices they make about their blogs matter, and maybe in my compilation essays they will discover what works for a particular blogging topic.

Pink candy floss.

Do Over?

If I were to do this project again, I don’t think I would change much of anything. As I said before, I believe my proposal was quite thorough in detailing my process. The minor change I would make to my posting format would be to remove the “Multi-modality, Tags, Categories, Content arrangement,” section, and simply add “Content Arrangement” with “Identity and Theme.” In my very last posts on food blogging, I’ve already practiced this revised format. The reason for this change was the fact that the Multi-modality section totally lacked in substance and meaning for my project as a whole. I felt like the section didn’t offer opportunities for meaningful observations aside from the fact that some bloggers do not know the difference between tags and categories. In this sense, I felt as though I was ridiculing the bloggers I was writing about. However, I do believe analyzing content arrangement was important, which is why I would merge this element into my Identity and Theme section. Also, removing the word count from that useless third category provides more space for the most important aspect of my project: content analysis.

I might also change the method in which I approached searching for my blogging topics. The hardest part of generating my content for this project was coming up with a satisfactory blogging topic to write about. This made each week’s success relatively uncertain. Many of the topics I covered have had very prolific communities. However,  political blogging was an example of a topic that was not only hard to find blogs for, but it was also extremely difficult to write about. So in terms of deciding on topics, I definitely wish I had planned my course out more clearly. I might have also benefited from searching other blogging sites for potential blogs instead of remaining on WordPress.

Food Blogging Part Two: Storm In an Egg Cup

Today marks the beginning of the last week of classes this semester. I’ve had a particularly jarring weekend in which all of my good habits have been obliterated. Today, I’m going to continue winding down with my project by providing another fascinating analysis of a food blog. I most likely will not engage myself in a full blown analysis of this type of blogging. Instead of a typical four posts +compilation essay this week, the post following this one will most likely be totally unrelated to my project. I will also be writing a project final write-up very shortly.

Today I’ll be looking at Storm In an Egg Cup, otherwise referred to as Frankie.

Identity, Theme, and Content Arrangement

Frankie’s theme is similar to Cooking Without Limits, in that it is colorless. Her page is entirely white, and the only aspect of her thematic choice that really stands out is her title. The name “Storm in an Egg Cup is presented with a unique font. I believe that Frankie has chosen these elements very deliberately, for reasons similar to Cooking Without Limits and Art Blogging. I’m starting to notice that food blogging uses images quite often, so a simple colorless theme serves to highlight the presence of these images and draw readers to the real content of the blog.

Frankie’s content arrangement is very simple as well. Her blog uses a menu with only three options: About, Contact, and Categories. The category “Recipes” is the only category shown on this menu. Besides this, Frankie doesn’t use any other means of content arrangement or organization. Again, this is similar to Cooking Without Limits – These simple choices push the reader onto the actual content of the blog instead of diverting them with superfluous means of “organizational” clutter.

The About page on Storm In and Egg Cup is surprisingly detailed. This page provides readers with some biographical information about Frankie, including her name, place of residence, passions, and studies. She also provides an image of herself, making it quite clear that she is a woman. Her about page makes it clear that Storm In an Egg Cup is a blog about food and recipes, but she doesn’t rule out the possibility of writing about random topics.

Content Analysis

When I wrote about Cooking Without Limits last Wednesday, I noted their very strict post format that centered around food recipes. In contrast, Storm In an Egg Cup seems to defy a set formula. I think this speaks to the diversity of approaches to food that Frankie tends to practice.

Frankie’s posts almost always include images of food. The way these images are arranged varies from post to post. Sometimes she includes images at the beginning of her post as a means of introduction – sort of like a featured image. Other times she accompanies her recipes and other writing content with stage by stage images of her food and cooking process. I believe this diverse use of image is actually rather unique. I’m not exactly sure why she does this. For now, I’m guessing that most of her recipe posts use the featured image approach more than her other content.

I’ve already alluded to Frankie’s content diversity. She posts recipes, in which aspects of her personal life tend to leak into her introductory paragraphs before detailing ingredients and cooking process. However, Frankie also tends to post about practically anything food related. This includes lists of snacks that she enjoys eating (typically healthy choices), and sometimes food/cooking accessories. In her post “4 Items That Can Make You Healthier,” she lists food storing and carrying devices that may help in incorporating healthy foods into one’s diet.

Food Blogging Part One: Cooking Without Limits

As my project comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on the potential blogging sub-genres that I haven’t had the chance to write about. At times, this reflection prompts some regret, because I feel as though certain sub-genres promise more productive analysis than some that I’ve already written about. I accept this as a natural side effect from this project, since the internet is a big place which encompasses a vast variety of topics. As part of my winding-down process, I’m going to address the blogging sub-genre of “food blogging.” I’m tackling this topic, because it’s somewhat related to the last sub-genre I covered (lifestyle blogging). I’m also going to modify the typical layout for my project by merging the “Multi-modality, Tags, Categories, Content arrangement” section with the “Identity and Theme” section.

Today I’ll be looking at Cooking Without Limits

Identity, Theme, and Content Arrangement

Cooking Without Limits prefers rather quiet thematic choices. Their blog’s color scheme consists of a white page, with no header image or extensive use of color or design. The most provocative element of the theme is the use of red hypertext, which stands out against the white background. This simple and quiet theme resembles what I’ve observed in art blogging many weeks ago. I noticed that in art blogging, an author usually decides on a nearly blank theme in order to emphasize their art. Ordinarily, a blogger might choose a more colorful and detailed theme to express a particular personality or style. However in this case, the lack of these details emphasize the images and writing content posted on the blog. In this sense, Cooking Without Limits most likely deliberately chose simple thematic choices to emphasize their tagline: “Food Photography & Recipes.”

Aside from thematic elements and content, it is difficult to ascertain the identity of the author of Cooking Without Limits. They do not have an About page, which means readers are deprived of practically all biographical or personal information from the blogger. However, I do believe this works in favor of the blog, since leaving out this information (which ends up being irrelevant in blogging) further adds to the simplicity, which emphasizes content. In this way, Cooking Without Limits quite literally forces readers onto their content, simply because that’s all there is. The most “About” this blog really needs is the tagline “Food Photography & Recipes” which describes its content concisely.

Content Analysis

Photography is a defining aspect of Cooking Without Limit’s content. Every post of theirs contains at least one image, but never exceeds four images. Since this blogs defines itself as a food photography blog, I find it interesting how there seems to be an unspoken limit on the use of images. I think this blogger’s goal is to maintain a delicate balance between writing content and photography in an attempt to divide both elements equally. An overbearing amount of images tend to drown out recipe, narrative, and description in the same way writing might drown out the presence of images. Of course, it seems quite natural for photography to be part of food blogging because as some might say “People eat with their eyes.” Cooking Without Limits appears to put a lot of time and energy into their photography; the image quality seems very professional. The detail and presentation of each food item is presented with incredible elegance.

Cooking Without Limits uses a particular structure in their writing content, which is often repeated throughout many of their posts. The author typically begins with a brief introduction which announces the food item/topic of the post. The author never incorporates their personal life, or other unrelated topics or digressions into their content.  After the introductory sentences to each post, the blog’s content is almost strictly a recipe with cooking directions. And of course, images display the completed food product with stunning detail. This makes Cooking Without Limits a very focused blog – which is a characteristic quite rare from other blogging sub-genres I’ve written about.

Compilation Essay: Week Five (Lifestyle Blogging)

This is compilation essay in which I discuss interesting correlations, connections, observations, and conclusions about the sub-genre that is “lifestyle blogging.” This is part of my project for class in which I analyze a myriad of blogging sub-genres. Last week when I discussed the topic of political blogging, I had trouble discovering blogs that precisely fit my definition. This week has faired slightly better, however defining lifestyle has still be rather tricky. As my project is coming to an end, I’m considering posting a final write-up about all of the blogging sub-genres I’ve covered and what I’ve learned through the whole process.

Blogs I’ve looked at this week:

Lifestyle as Fitness and Health

Early on in my blogging career, as I was just discovering the world of blogs and the vast array of blogging topics, I noticed that the word “lifestyle” gets thrown around a lot. This observation has more or less led to this week’s focus. Personally, I consider lifestyle blogging to be the most bloggy type of blog out there. In other words, whenever I hear the word “blog” the first topic that enters my thoughts is lifestyle. However, lifestyle is very broad and general term, and I’ve eventually noticed an interesting division in the sub-genre of lifestyle blogging.

After writing about Simple Living Over 50 and The Shriveling Sisters this week, I was starting to realize that most of what bloggers thought of as lifestyle was a general improvement in one’s health/life. I draw a connection between these two blogs, because their content is very focused around health improvement, diet change, and fitness. Simple Living Over 50 provides periodic updates about his weight and blood sugar, as well as detailed content about his weight loss goals and diet plan. The Shriveling Sisters post in much the same way, by providing updates about their weight loss, exercise, diet plan, etc. These factors are certainly considered lifestyle blogging – these individuals are writing about the ways in which they’re changing how they live their lives. This approach to lifestyle is rather specific, and it has very clear goals in mind. The defining aspect of these type of blogs, I believe, is that they’re self-oriented – meaning they’re not too concerned about rhetoric, audience, or popularity.

Lifestyle as Morality, Beauty, Fashion, and Pretty Much Everything Else

MC Morgan pointed out in a comment on my The Shriveling Sisters post, that lifestyle encompasses morality in addition to physical health factors. He cites Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtue experiment. I think this observation strikes at the heart of lifestyle blogging, because it illustrates just exactly how broad this topic can be. In fact, I’m inclined to believe that many bloggers fail to realize that lifestyle includes more factors than just diet and health.

A great example of lifestyle blogging that is concerned with morality and ethics, is of course, Inside Ethical. This blog’s content is not concerned with an improvement in lifestyle, but tends to advocate and give details about a particular lifestyle. Inside Ethical’s content is defined by two major factors: A vegan diet, and the ethical treatment of animals. Both of these elements are interconnected, and express the larger overarching theme of the blog – Ethics. Inside Ethical approaches the moral questions of lifestyle, and thus reaches beyond the question of physical health. Again, all of this serves to show that lifestyle blogging has an endless amount of topics and approaches in of itself.

Lastly, KellyHeart’s blog gives a particularly interesting insight into lifestyle blogging due to it’s wide variety of content. To be honest, Kelly’s blog was difficult to define at first. Her initial presentation gives a reader the impression that her blog is just a blog -that it has no focus. However, I feel confident in defining Kelly’s blog as a lifestyle blog, because most of her content is centered around the general question of how people live their lives. I image that Kelly will approach practically any topic that interests her, making her blog the epitome of lifestyle blogging by showing readers just how vast lifestyle can be (especially in a globalized culture). Diet, skin care, makeup, beauty, dress, travel, exercise – these topics define but don’t limit Kelly’s broad content.

Importance of Diet

Now, aside from the glaring variety of content in lifestyle blogging, it’s clear that the subject of diet seems to unite all of these blogs to some degree. The interesting thing about this observation, is that when I was searching for blogs to write about this week, I found myself coming into contact with many vegan blogs. I was beginning to think I could write for a whole week about vegan blogging alone. I’m guessing the popularity of a vegan diet is just another wave of health/ethical popularity that seems to be sweeping through our Western culture.

In the case of the two health improvement blogs I’ve written about, their diet changes are more drastic and typically include a large portion (maybe 1/3 or half) of the blogging content. These bloggers go as far as to read books about diet and weight loss strategies, and implement these strategies in their daily life. Simple Living Over 50 has blogged about a “window fasting” strategy, and The Shriveling Sisters have recently been keeping up with a juice fasting diet. With these blogs, diet occupies an experimental position within their content.

A vegan diet is at the center of Inside Ethical, and serves as a primary identifying characteristic of blogger and content. In this blog, the diet of blogger becomes a character trait. It is a static element that is consistently referred to as the blogger writes about their personal experiences. Katie (Inside Ethical) writes a great deal about new vegan foods and restaurants, as well as other challenges she faces because of this diet (i.e people questioning her diet choice). In this way, a reader receives a particularly detailed insight into a vegan lifestyle. Katie’s main point is that in today’s society, finding food options as a vegan is not very difficult.

The last approach to diet is KellyHeart’s conspicuous fascination with food. It is not apparent whether or not Kelly adheres to a specific diet. Kelly writes food recipes and and writes about her daily eats. In this way, diet finds a quiet place on Kelly’s blog.

Lifestyle blogging certainly has unifying characteristics – precisely in the way that I’ve shown with diet. However the diversity in diet alone shows just exactly how hard it is to define lifestyle blogging. Even in terms of life topics – fashion, health, diet, exercise, beauty – lifestyle content varies wildly. However even within these separate life topics that define lifestyle blogging, there’s an incredible (practically infinite) amount of diversity. The approaches are quite honestly endless.