Friday, December 4, 2015

A Revising Plan Memo For English 101




Friday, December 4, 2015

Dear English 101 Classes,

Now, at the end of the fall semester, it is time to take stock of the writing we have done for the course. As you know, I have tried to complete some of the assignments to see what it was like to grapple with the challenges of reflecting, informing, and analyzing. I won’t lie; it has been difficult.

For the last assignment, we are all revising one of the essays we worked on earlier in the semester. I believe that the better a writer can name what it is in a piece of writing that needs revision, the more likely the revision will be successful The saying, “if you can name it, you can tame it” applies here.

So, I have decided to revise the essay “Sneakers, Safety Pins, and the Inescapable Reality of Hay in the Barn.” Based on my reading of the assignment and the think-aloud protocol I did on the essay, here are some of my plans. I hope to have the revision ready by the end of next week, when the portfolios are due.

·       *   First I need to re-work the opening paragraphs to better predict and forecast the “story,” the “larger significance” of this event. As I was writing this, I discovered that the personal realization, or “take away” from this event had to do with my desires to win and how those desires come up against the realities of aging, training, and talent. As Joining the Conversation  states, “Almost every type of writing – at least writing that’s interesting – tells a story” (143). It goes on to ask readers what “kind” of story it is that the writer wants to share. “As you draft,” it says, “think about the kind of story you want to share. Will it be a tale of triumph against all odds? Will it lead to a surprising discovery? …. Will it be a tragedy? A comedy? A Farce?” (143).

In my case, the essay will be a realization that I want to compete even though I have no hope of winning the state championship in the time trial. I guess that is a surprising discovery but also comedy and tragedy, maybe even a bit of a farce. Mostly though, it's a realization that came out of writing about the event. In a way, I “come to terms” with both my desire and my limitations. The essay needs to imply some of that focus more in the opening paragraphs.

The opening graf, for example, reads:

The metal chairs were stacked and secured with a thick cable next to the locked door of the cafe. I could see the baristas bustling around inside getting ready to open. It was just a bit before 5 a.m. and they would open soon.

As it stands, it doesn’t point so well to the focus on my hopes of winning. I want to add something like “I couldn’t help but hope that today, miraculously, might be the day when it all comes together, and that I might win,” or something like that. I want to set up some of the romance, the expectation, yes, that’s  it, the expectation, that a miracle might happen.
 
·         * In addition to anticipating the story, and weaving that in more through the opening moments of the essay, I think I could develop better the human face of this community. The assignment sheet states “The goal of this assignment is to familiarize yourself with the community through conducting primary research…” So I am not just thinking about “my” story, but also the defining values of this community. As the assignment sheet recommends, writers need to “interrogate” their observations in order to begin seeing “between the lines” of the community to “beliefs, values, desires, assumptions, and fears.” I feel I could focus more on the value of competition this community shares. Winning is a big deal, as is the willingness to show up at the line and throw down your best effort.

I think I could include more of that in the interactions I have with some of the other participants. I do a pretty good job when I write “The car next to me is occupied by a couple from Hermosillo Mexico. We talk some about the course and about people we know in common from Hermosillo. He and she both race regularly in Arizona. They are both young, fit, and look like real contenders,” but could include a conversation with I had with a friend about meeting at the races.

Here is a possible re-write: “I saw Kelly warming up on her stationary trainer and went up to wish her luck. She smiled when she saw me. ‘How do you think you’ll do today?’ I told her some of the racers in my category were fast, real fast. She shook her head. ‘Oh well, at least you’ll get a good workout.’ Her interest shifted back to her heart-rate monitor in a way that told me she wanted to focus on her warm-up,” or something like that.

Developing more of the hidden but shared values of this community will enhance my appeal to readers in that I am letting them in something they may not know. The community’s values also reflect on my own, adding to the overall tension of the essay’s focusing idea of desire and limitation.

·          * The purpose of a reflection essay is to explore a personal or social question. The questions tend to be human questions that other kinds of writing can’t or don’t quite address. The narrative structures and conventions help advance those purposes. Development and evidence in these kinds of essays comes from closely observed and incorporated detail. Details work best to create a kind of experience for the reader. Concrete specificity, active, vivid verbs, local lingo, mood, and color all add up to a more satisfying reading experience. I try to approximate some of this when I write:

The sound of trainers and quiet conversations mixes with the crunching gravel of new arrivals. A few sun shelters pop up. They have bright tops with logos of various teams and shops around the area: Team Aggress, Southwest Hand, Team Vitesse, Strada, and others. I see a young rider from the UA who forgot his cycling shoes. He tells me he plans to ride in his sneakers. Later I will hear that he achieved a personal best of twenty seven miles per hour. He won the state championship in his age group wearing tennies. Not bad. Sometimes you have to improvise, most times, in my case. I just work with what I've got, and today, for once, I seem to have my ducks in row. I thank the gods of cycling for having been so generous to me, so supportive in letting me fulfill an athletic dream.

As a kid I was one of those weirdos who  followed the Tour de France, who dreamed of riding high into the knife-edged snow-caps of the Alps, rolling through fields of sunflowers, and rocking the bike in a bunch sprint down a narrow avenue in a French village. Nobody in my small Wisconsin high school even knew what the Tour de France was or who Laurent Fignon, Bernard Hinaut, or Eddy Merckx were. I wore black wool shorts and rode a skinny tired bike while the other kids watched the Green Bay Packers and drove burly four wheel drive pick-up trucks.

The names, the crunching gravel, the reverie back to memories all add to the prospect that readers will “see” and “feel” more of what I am trying to convey. I feel this particular aspect of the essay is working well. As the Students Guide says, “Vivid and concrete details can bring people closer, creating a moment of telepathy in which an image or a moment travels from one mind to another.” This kind of “telepathy” is what I want to achieve in the description and the commentary and reflection here. I am looking at the situation as well as my subject position, my point of view, my desires. Doing so helps to fulfill the purposes of the assignment, the conventions of this type of writing, to engage my audience, and to solve some of the challenges of this rhetorical situation, which asks that I think critically about an event that I observe and find something to say about it that goes beyond recording the incidental details. 

* Overall, this semester has shown me the importance of “pushing” my writing beyond what I do in my first drafts. Through revising I can select details to better illustrate my focus and my claims. Writing goes way beyond speaking in that way. Because I get to make selections, I “up” the complexity, precision, and sustained examination of my subjects, whether they be an event, a profile, or a genre. I see I can shape writing to fit purposes and audiences in ways that make me more of a “shaper” of my own thoughts.

I guess that’s not such a bad way to end the semester.

Thanks guys for getting this far and for helping me see what I didn’t quite see as clearly before.

Sincerely,

E. Toso

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