Intermediate Writing

Communicating and Collaborating

passion-to-paper-screen

This semester I chose to write about Syria and Al-Assad.   When we were asked to find a theme to write on, the debate on whether we should intervene in Syria or not was plastered all over the news.  I like to be on top of general current events and controversy and I thought that the Syria issue would be one that could remain interesting to write about for several months and could be explored using various writing strategies.  My perspective on the issue initially was based on what was presented to me from the standard news outlets (like CNN, Washington Post, and Fox News) and I initially had a non-interventionist opinion based on people having the right of having their own sovereignty.  As the semester progressed my perspective (or at least my proposed solution) did not change.  However, as I learned about the issue my supporting ideas of non-intervention were strengthened even to the point that if we were to intervene, it might be in our best interest to insure Al-Assad remained in power.    The problem with the Syrian civil war is that it’s not necessarily about overthrowing Al-Assad as a means to maintain or establish freedom or democracy (as possibly seen in Egypt which remains unresolved) but is instead about establishing a radical Islamic State.   Al-Assad, while definitely no saint, has been a barrier against radical Islam and is possibly a key piece or stepping stone for a future secular Middle East.

Our group project involved translating an assignment or two into something new for an online magazine.  (You can check out the magazine here).  I chose to have two of my notebook assignments translated for this endeavor.   In the honesty of a student, I had the desire to translate assignments that would require a minimal amount of work.    However, this wasn’t the ultimate deciding factor for the assignments I chose.  The first assignment I selected was a poem I wrote about Syria.  The poem, written as a part of our notebook journal, turned out well and I thought it would be something neat to share.  When translating it to a picture with the text, it was difficult to decide on a layout and images I would use.  I wanted to make sure the image supported the message of the poem while also not distracting the reader.  After going through a number of choices I selected the one with Assad waving at an adoring crowd of Syrians.  I think it is a successful contrast to the message I was writing in the poem.   After all, he is the ruler of the people slaved to his authority (but do those people look enslaved to him?).  The second assignment I chose was the short bio I wrote for Charles Lister.  When I was selecting assignments for translation, it popped right out at me.  I like to think I’m a funny person and I immediately thought turning it into a comic would be very funny while also having a fairly subtle message concerning the niceties of concise writing.  When rendered in the comic form, the short bio at 300 words is quite obviously boring (at least to me).  I believe stuffing the text in the frame like I did gives a great visual representation of what boring writing (or talking) is.  Even though I was the one who wrote it, I have no motivation to read the block.  As writers, I think it’s important to think about how much visual appeal what we write has.  If what we write (or say) would look like it does on the second panel after translation, perhaps we should take a step back and think about revision.  The most fantastic words of wisdom ever to grace the Earth could be lost if it’s stuck in a chunk of 300 indigestible words (not that I’m suggesting my biography of Charles Lister is fantastic words of wisdom).

Revision and design as a collaborative effort is a tough nut that has a delicious organic center.  The process of cracking the nut is arduous and sometimes feels impossible.   Getting people together on-time and on the same page is very hard.  As students who are often tens of miles apart and have often wildly different schedules, it’s hard to catch everyone.   It was fortunate in my group that people separated into their roles (and took on their tasks) without much struggle.  I feel the experience was very positive on the whole and I had excellent feedback concerning my work.  We set up a shared document where group members could write their thoughts and revision ideas for each other’s projects and I thought it was an efficient and quick way to get everyone to contribute ideas. However, like many group assignments, there’s a degree of frustration that can arise.  The path is often arduous and there are often ruts in the road that slow down the journey.  However, sometimes the end of the journey turns out pretty cool.  After using group member suggestions for improving the site, the magazine improved ten-fold.  I’m particularly happy with the cover page which was propagated from the nudgings of the editor-in-chief.

If I were to offer any suggestions for collaboration and group projects to future students I would definitely say:  stay on top of each other!  I think it’s very important to set up a plan (with dates) and follow through.  The collaboration project would be very hard if people didn’t know what’s expected and when it’s expected.   My group had timelines set out and I think we’re reaping positive results because of it.    Finally, it’s important to talk to each other.  We’ve had two group meetings via Google Hangouts (voice chat) and it’s so much easier to talk each other in one place than sending messages through texts or email.  It’s faster to talk and requires more engagement to some degree.  It’s easier to skim through an email than block out someone talking to you in a meeting.  Definitely consider doing some sort of meeting with voice communication—it really has better results!

Flash Memoir

REVISED Flash Memoir

For most of my life the United States has been at war.  From the Gulf War in the early 90s to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still going on today, the United States has been involved in many humanitarian related violent conflicts.  My “social justice” issue for this semester relates with the humanitarian idea of using explosives to help good people survive.  Is the United States really doing a good thing by intervening in other countries’ squabbles?  Many people like to think of the U.S. being the older brother who stops the bully from beating up the kid brother after school.  However, as we often see in the movies, when the older brother leaves, the kid brother still gets beat up.  Are we doing the kid brother a favor by intervening in his battles?

Like most people my age, I have vivid memories of when America was attacked on September 11, 2001.  I remember seeing the television on in the kitchen with a news report about a plane accident hitting one of the World Trade Center buildings.  It was early in the morning and a school day so I ate breakfast while the report went on and eventually left the house to ride the bus to my middle school.    When I got to school and the class started, my teacher told us that it was a terrorist attack.  Since that day, the United States has been wars across the worlds with the people who wish to do us or other innocent people harm.  Like many Americans I felt the gut reaction of wanting revenge.   I cheered on our soldiers and felt we were fulfilling a necessary duty of protecting not only United States citizens but also the poor oppressed people of the Middle East.  How dare people we don’t even know declare a jihad against the freedom loving people of the western world all the while oppressing and slaughtering their own people?

Throughout my high school life I had what I would now consider a simplistic view of the Middle East.  I thought the conflict was a cut-and-dried good versus evil scenario.   Terrorists and those who harbor terrorists are bad and we’re good for killing them.  However, as I’ve gotten older I believe I have developed a more nuanced opinion of our “War on Terror” (or bullies depending on perspective)–that the moral lines of good and evil are often blurred.   After all, there has been collateral damage.   It’s easy to believe that every bomb dropped killed only terrorists and other evil people but the evidence suggests the opposite.  We’ve killed a lot of people in our pursuit of social justice, many of which were innocent.  Some believe based on the Iraq War Logs leaked on Wikileaks that over 120 thousand civilians have died in the war since 2003.   Of course, in perspective, Saddam is estimated to have killed over a million Iraqis during his rule.

It’s not difficult to relate in some small degree with the people of Syria.  While our struggles during the past decade haven’t been so terrifying on a day-to-day basis, many of us remember the vulnerability and insecurity September 11 had on us.  As an extension of this, we want to help people in need.  We recognize that the people in Syria are in trouble and we have the means, like a big brother, to stop the bully from beating up (if you can describe something as awful as murder by chemical weapon as “beating” someone up) a vulnerable younger brother.

Ever since World War 2, America has been on the world stage as a global police force.  Syria is not the first country we’ve considered intervening in.  We’ve played the role of the peace keeping brother multiple times in the past several decades, particularly in the Middle East.

Are we doing the right thing by intervening in Syria?  Are we doing the oppressed citizenry of Syria a disservice by preventing them from truly empowering themselves?  If we got rid of Assad, will another bully just take his place?  Are the costs of dethroning tyrants and bullies worth it?  If we intervene with guns, explosives and glory, we’re going to kill innocent people, no matter how hard we try not to.  If we intervene we’re going to undermine the agency of the Syrians simply by picking sides.  Should people have a right to choose their fate and not have someone swoop in and make their choices for them?

I think this issue is a very complex one and I’m not sure if there is any totally right or wrong answer.  There are good reasons to intervene.  Countries should not use chemical weapons on its citizens and leaders who use such disgusting force to retain power should be overthrown.  However, there are good reasons to not intervene.   Foreign powers intervening in civil wars always undermine the sovereignty of the people.   When someone resolves a problem for you they rob you of independence.  It is a message that you can’t do something on your own and the ramifications of such knowledge can have long term consequences.

Rough Draft

For most of my life the United States has been at war.  From the Gulf War in the early 90s to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still going on today, the United States has been involved in many humanitarian related violent conflicts.  My “social justice” issue for this semester relates with the humanitarian idea of using explosives to help good people survive.  Is the United States really doing a good thing by intervening in other countries’ squabbles?  Many people like to think of the U.S. being the older brother who stops the bully from beating up the kid brother after school.  However, as we often see in the movies, when the older brother leaves, the kid brother still gets beat up.  Are we doing the kid brother a favor by intervening in his battles?

Like most people my age, I have vivid memories of when America was attacked on September 11, 2001.  I remember seeing the television on in the kitchen with a news report about a plane accident hitting one of the World Trade Center buildings.  It was early in the morning and a school day so I ate breakfast while the report went on and eventually left the house to ride the bus to my middle school.    When I got to school and the class started, my teacher told us that it was a terrorist attack.  Since that day, the United States has been wars across the worlds with the people who wish to do us or other innocent people harm.

It’s not difficult to relate in some small degree with the people of Syria.  While our struggles during the past decade haven’t been so terrifying on a day-to-day basis, many of us remember the vulnerability and insecurity September 11 had on us.  As an extension of this, we want to help people in need.  We recognize that the people in Syria are in trouble and we have the means, like a big brother, to stop the bully from beating up (if you can describe something as awful as murder by chemical weapon as “beating” someone up) a vulnerable younger brother.

Are we doing the right thing by intervening in Syria?  Are we doing the oppressed citizenry of Syria a disservice by preventing them from truly empowering themselves?  If we got rid of Assad, will another bully just take his place?  I think this issue is a very complex one and I’m not sure if there is any totally right or wrong answer however going into this topic I believe that the Syrians should be allowed to throw off their own oppressors and learn their own potential than let a country like the United States beat back the bully for a day or two.

The flash memoir assignment was a little difficult for me to start writing. I was blocked in the beginning and wasn’t sure how to go about it. To begin it I just started writing and then let it flow as more ideas came to me. When thinking about war and Syria the first event that came to mind was the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. I feel that my ideas and feelings about the still ongoing wars have major bearing on my opinions about the Syrian civil war and the notion of intervention and that’s why I included it as part of my memoir..