The Beauty of Paige Arrington’s Class and Learning to Write What Nobody Else Can


Before this class, I had never been told to write something that nobody else can write. For once I felt like my writing was supposed to be my voice. It represented me and nobody could pass it off as their own. I learned that language cannot exist without perception. Every word portrays a bias meaning language is inherently subjective, sure there are degrees of objectivity but it can never be purely objective. Therefore everything I write is unique to me and my perception. Anne E. Berthoff tells us that our environment and experiences shape our understanding of language. Our experiences and the connections we draw is how we give meaning to words and because we all have unique lives and experiences we all give words unique meanings. Like how I kept using the word “framed” in my thick description. If I were a detective, I would probably use the words “bordered by” or “has on either side,” because the meaning I would give the word “framed” has nothing to do with the description of a panel.

I learned that we create these meanings and draw these connections so that our brains can interpret, analyze, and understand the chaos that surrounds us. I was encouraged to draw these connections in my writing as a way of making it mine. And upon analysis, I realized how beautiful these connections are. An example of one of these connections is when I related the HIV/AIDS orphans to a specific quote from The Book Thief, a book about WWII Germany, in my “Ethos of Lisa Brown’s Panel” post. Who else would have made this connection? Who would have seen these children and thought of “the leftover humans. The survivors… the ones who are left behind, crumbling among the jigsaw puzzle of realization, despair, and surprises”(Zusak, 4)? And who would have understood and interpreted their suffering with the loss of my grandmother and the struggle I had as a child to cope?

When I was in third grade I drew a connection between Lady Lollipop, a book we were reading as a class about an eight-year-old princess who wants a pet pig, and a conversation I had with my mother about a relative whose father disowned him. I remember this incident because the teacher thought I was brilliant, she even told my mom about it at a parent-teacher conference. Personally, I never understood what the big deal was- surely if anyone else had had that conversation with their mother they would have drawn the connection too? It just made sense. But for the first time, I understand that it was my brain’s unique way of drawing connections that helped me understand the characters of the book. Nobody else could have drawn that connection because everyone draws different connections and create different meanings with those connections. Nobody else had that conversation with their mother and even if they had, their brain may not have created such a connection, therefore altering their understanding of the book and its characters.

During the Notebook project, I was allowed to analyze my own writing, my own perception and I saw a web of connections that I make on a daily basis that have gone unnoticed and unutilized. My personal experiences often influence the way I write through anecdotes such as “my mother once told me…(entry 10),” where I was afraid to ask for strength as a result of the quoted memory. These entries also heavily rely on similes, “clammy like the cheek of a hospice patient (entry 14),” “like a dead leaf,” and  “like a silent tear (entry 16).” This notebook has definitely changed the way I look at writing. Before I was always taught there was a correct way to write- good grammar, clear points, etc. Now I understand writing isn’t a formula. My writing may have incomplete sentences when I speak to my organic object, but that’s ok because in my own way I am assigning meaning, I am creating an analysis. I learned that my brain relies heavily on drawing connections, creating relationships, and comparing ideas to provide meaning.  My favorite way to display these connections was through an activity called “creating a chaos.” This meant writing down a word and then drawing out the web of connections I made with that word, and then those words branched off into more words, which branched off into even more words. So you might start with a word like “monarchy” and somehow end up with the word “casinos.” It was crazy and chaotic and to the rest of the word it may even seem a little nonsensical- but to me every connection makes sense, every connection is uniquely beautiful.

A sample of “chaoses” from my notebook

These connections are what makes my definition essay of perfection so different because no one else could create these connections. I loved writing my definition essay. I’ll admit it was difficult and definitely different from anything I have ever written before, but I think that is partly why I enjoyed it, it was not your boring, cookie-cutter essay. I not only had to do research (which I loved doing) but I also had to analyze that research and draw connections that no one else had drawn before. I felt like a pioneer venturing into to a new world of defining, of course, I stumbled and there were many times where I had no idea where I was going, but once I found my way, it was MY way. No one else could have written this essay.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt project truly exemplifies how I interpret the world around me and how I understand how others make meaning because I was allowed to pick any panel from the AIDS quilt and interpret it. My AMQ project addresses what the panel teaches us about HIV/AIDS and the child survivors. I drew connections between my personal experiences, the panel, and my research in the essay, like “The main struggle these children face is psychological. Most studies find “a high degree of internalizing disorders such as depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety and especially post-traumatic stress” in this group (Smart, 2009). It was also found in a study on kids whose parent was diagnosed with cancer that parents commonly “underestimate the emotional difficulties that their children are experiencing …Because young people frequently hide their feelings to protect their families” (Maynard, A., Patterson, P., McDonald, F.E.J., & Stevens, G., 2013).  This is the only action the children can take to try and alleviate the parent’s pain. They want to spare their parents as much as possible, so they put on a mask and internalize their pain to ease the parent’s pain. When I was young…” I decided to focus on speaking to the caretakers of these children. I felt it was imperative that these caretakers not only know what the child is struggling with but to also encourage them to be advocates for these children so these children would no longer be overlooked in research. This project was definitely difficult because I am so used to writing about what I know. It was so strange writing about a group that I was not a part of- how could I possibly understand their suffering? But when I started writing and researching it became so rewarding. I loved that I was able to give a voice not just to Robert, but to all these child survivors while using my own experiences as a way understanding their struggles. In this project, I really went out of my comfort zone and made my experiences and my perception explicit. I spoke of the loss of my grandmother and I used the word “I” more than I was ever encouraged to before.   

This class is so different from your standard English class, and that is why I loved it. For once I wasn’t taught to make the writing perfect, I was taught to make it mine. And I think I definitely accomplished that. For that reason, I think both the class and I deserve an A.


Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2007. Print.

General Outline


“The Future is in her hands” by WAC Egypt

Thesis- The AIDS quilt panel for Lisa Brown teaches us a lot about forgotten child survivors of HIV/AIDS victims.

I. These child survivors of HIV/AIDS are often overlooked and underrepresented in psychological research.

A. How many?

B. In what way are they overlooked?

C. Why are they overlooked?

II. These children often internalize their grief after losing their infected loved one.

A. Why?

B. Why is this harmful?

III. The panel speaks to these struggles and brings awareness to these complicated situations.

A. How?

B. Is this purposeful?

C. What does this add to the quilt?


Also see:

HIV/AIDS Orphans

An AIDS Panel for a Mother

Ethos of Lisa Brown’s Panel

Ethos of Lisa Brown’s panel

Robert presenting the panel in 1996 when he was 12 years old

What first drew me to this panel was the words “I LOVE you mom” scrawled in large blue letters across the lower half of the panel. I could feel the shout of desperation, the longing, the need to have the mother’s spirit know that her son loves her and misses her. These words speak to me, not about the mother lost, as much as the child left behind.  It reminds me of  my favorite book quote, from The Book Thief where death is speaking:

              “It’s the leftover humans. The survivors. They’re the ones I can’t stand to look at, although

               on many occasions I still fail. I deliberately seek out the colors to keep my mind off them,

               but now and then, I witness the ones who are left behind, crumbling among the jigsaw

               puzzle of realization, despair, and surprises. They have punctured hearts. They have

               beaten lungs. Which in turn brings me to the subject I am telling you about tonight,

               or today, or whatever the hour and color. It’s the story of one of those perpetual

               survivors –an expert at being left behind.”(Zusak, 4)

Looking at this panel I want to analyze the life of these young survivors. I want to hear their voices and know their stories. Their “punctured hearts,” and “beaten lungs” deserve to be remembered and understood. I want to understand Robert Brown, the creator of this panel, and how AIDS affected his life. He presented his panel at age 12. For him, every aspect of this panel honors his family, specifically the mother that he loves and misses. After viewing this panel, I read two letters sent in about the panel. One from a NAMES Project volunteer who witnessed the presentation and one from Robert himself.

NAMES Project Volunteer: Front
NAMES Project Volunteer: Back

The volunteer tells the story of a “tearful” Robert who struggled to let the panel go because it was like “once again he was forced to leave his mother.” Finally, Robert gave the panel to the AIDS quilt, asking that they “put it with ‘The other Mothers” who have died.”

Robert Brown’s letter

In Robert’s letter, he explains the symbolism of the panel. The birds to the left and right of the circle are him and his sister. The bottom bird is his grandmother, who is now his guardian. The symbols at the bottom of the panel are animal tracks “leading to the spirit world.” The beige background represents the earth. The pinwheel made to represent life colors each represents aspects of nature:

Red- The sun

Blue- The sky

Green-The grass

White- The clouds

At the center of this circle is where Robert believes his mother’s spirit is located. Robert never explains the illustrated cloths, but because they encircle the mother’s spirit, I believe they are Robert’s way of creating a perfect ‘heaven’ or ‘haven’ for his mother’s spirit. Surrounding her with beautiful images of nature is Robert’s way of bringing her the peace. This could represent the pressures these children face to protect their sick parent from the horrors of the world- they work tirelessly to give their suffering loved one a perfect life and when they lose that loved one they may feel the need to give them that perfection in death. It is very normal in our culture to want to bring peace to these lost ones, however, normally that weight is not put on the shoulders of a 12-year-old boy who just lost his mom.

Robert also did not mention the multicolored words like the “I LOVE you mom,” this could be a message for his mother’s spirit. This affectionate cry proves not only that the elements of this panel is meant for his mother, but also the desperation Robert faces to ensure that his mother knows how much he loves her. This panel shares the concerns of this young boy- How will she know where to go? What if she gets lost? Does she know that she is loved? Is she happy where she is? Does she finally feel better?  Will she miss me?






Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2007. Print.


Also see:

An AIDS Panel for a Mother

General Outline

HIV/AIDS Orphans

Analysis of thick description

*See the “An AIDS Panel for a Mother” page for the original writing

“Lisa Brown: A mother, A daughter, Another lost one”- I decided to start the post with the name of the person the panel is honoring as a way of giving the object a name. The I wrote who she was being recognized as “a mother” who she must have been ” a daughter” and concluded with why she had a panel. I used “lost one” rather than “victim” because I did not want anyone to interpret that as a weakness. She did lose her battle against AIDS but she was by no means weak.

 “Block: 4994, Panel: 1”- I included this to act as a more objective name and to help people locate this panel if they wanted to.

“canvas”- I kept using this word to describe rough cloth. I like to paint in my free time so the only rough cloth I encounter on a regular basis is canvas. This is part of why writing is so subjective because we relate things we see to things we have experienced in our environment. It is an act of association.

“the depictions framed portrait (vertically)”- I was always taught in art class ‘portrait’ and ‘landscape’ orientation, however, I renamed it as vertical just in case the description was not clear

“most likely cheap”– In my experience rough, beige material is typically inexpensive.

 “The center of the top half contains a circle divided in four quarters of color”- This circle catches the eye because of its size and colors. Because of the attention was drawn to it, I assumed it was an important symbol so I started with it and described the spatial usage of the top half in relation to the circle.

“The top color is baby blue, the east color is a forest green, the west is white, and the bottom color is bright cherry red”- I noticed here that every color is described with a type, except white. Why not specify which white?

“different from the base material. It is fuzzier”- I noticed a lot of comparison within the panel. The panel brought all the elements together but what set them apart?

“The thread is black, thin, and continuous (the stitches were small and close together)”- I used to sew, so  based off what I see and what I have experienced, I make the assumption that this means “the stitches are small and close together.”

“The spaces above, below, left, and right of the circle depict naturalistic predatory birds”- The order of directions must be due to the fact the form of writing I was always taught to use was top to bottom, left to right.

“glued to the background material”- I made this assumption because I could see no indication of the material being sewn.

“mid-flight pose (wings outstretched)”- I do not know exactly where I got the knowledge that allows me to assume the activities of these birds, but I did include a description of the stance to provide a more objective visual.

“white, black, sandy brown, and light brown”- Why do white and black always lack adjectives?

“The southern bird”- I find it very interesting that half of the time I used cardinal directions to describe the spatial juxtaposition of the image. What does that say about the images?

“The eyes are slightly darker and larger than the side birds”- Again I use a comparison to describe aspects of the panel.

“appears”- This verb works to say what I think it is and to say that it could be something different. It points out that this description is my perception.

“Its eye is actually colored and has a pupil, unlike the others”- Comparison

“illustrated cloths”- The word “illustrated” implies that there is a story behind the depiction.

“less pliable than the background canvas”- Comparison

“like a clothing patch”- I try to use things I have experienced in my environment to clarify the description, I must assume that my audience has had a similar environment.

“a printed depiction”- I assumed that the depiction was “printed” because it was appeared to be made of ink and not hand drawn.

“The patch in the top left corner depicts a deer landing from a jump across a river. The body is at an angle- hind legs still in the air while the front legs are planted on the ground”- I make an assumption, but then I back it up with a visual description.

“The picture is framed by two clusters of trees”- I seem to use the word “framed” a lot in my description. What does that say about my perception of the picture?

“The trees appear to be birch”- I relate the trees to the only trees I know that have the light bark with horizontal lines.

“clumps of grass”- I seem to use the word “clumps” to describe the organic clusters of the items.

“evergreens”- These trees reminded me of Christmas trees.

“a sprinkling of small white flowers with yellow centers”- I love the use of the word “sprinkling,” it perfectly describes the dispersed nature of the tiny flowers.

“a mother bear”-  I used the presence of the cubs to assume it is a mother bear.

“perched at the top of a tree”- The use of “perched” implies the deliberate and balanced stance of the cub.

“buffalo who appear to be grazing with their heads lowered towards the grass”- I assume the action and then support the assumption with a description of the scene.

“the main buffalo”- I establish it as the “main buffalo” because it is larger and centered.

“The rightmost bird is an exact copy of the bird south of the center circle”- This is proof to me that the images are printed.

“It has a full profile view with the front leg closest to the viewer raised”- This sentence references the viewer in the description. Aren’t I a viewer? Why not say “me” instead of “viewer.”

“the foreground”- This word seems more technical to me, like something an art critic would say.

“decorated with handwritten letters and hand-drawn symbols”- I assume they are handwritten because of their organic nature and desperate message.

 “The words “In,” “my,” “Brown,” and “Died 5/17/96” are written in blue ink. The words “memory,” “mom,” and “Lisa” are written in black. The words “of” and “Born 10/25/65″ are written in red”- Why are the words written in different colors? What do these colors imply?

“I LOVE you mom”- This part is was what first drew me into to this panel. It is like a loud desperate call that seems to say more about the author than the audience. I noticed that “love” was in all caps like it was being yelled. To me, the two main points of the panel are this and the pinwheel of colors.

“an array of symbols”- This was the only way I could think to describe this section because I was unfamiliar with the symbols and they were all different from each other in one way or another.

“small blue exclamation points”- I labeled most of these forms as exclamation points because I did not know what they were so I just related them to the closest thing I recognized.

“with pairs of what looks like human shoe prints or exclamation points”- Again, I did not know what the symbol was supposed to be so I related it to something I have seen before. These symbols tell me that I am not the intended audience. I assume based off the message earlier and these unfamiliar symbols that this panel’s audience is the mother who the creator lost. 

“the right pair of prints is blue while the others are black”- What is the significance of these colors?

“blockier exclamation points”- I compare the symbols to each other to describe the forms. 

“Above and to the right of this face”- I spatially compare these forms because they appear to be in random spots, not in any pattern or symmetry.

“like eyelashes”- I wanted to note the connection my brain instantly drew between the symbol and something I had identified before. This goes to show that even in “objective” writing there is the presence of subjective perception coloring the description.


Also see:

Ethos of Lisa Brown’s panel

Analysis of “Essays in Material Culture”

What is a “thick description”?

A “thick description” is used in the prownian analysis as a way to gather information from your primary source- your object. You must document your object in as objective language as possible, paying close attention to every detail no matter how small. The key to writing a ‘thick description’ is to avoid conclusions- try to focus on the details. This will not only lengthen your description but it will create more objective writing.


For this example, I was given 5 minutes to write a practice thick description of the following picture:

“Look at The ‘Rate Schedule’ Sign, Last Line,” by Tom Driggers


There is a woman on the left side of the frame. Her eyebrows are raised, her eyes are open, and she is focused on something right of the viewer. She wears a dark T-shirt and her hair is in a bun. Her hair is blond with dark brown roots. She is standing near a metal shelf that supports ten differently designed coffee mugs and a sort of jar with a wide mouth and a large cork to fit the mouth. There are stickers on the rim of the shelf that advertise payment options like “visa.” Below the right corner of the shelf is a small sign hanging from a single nail that reads “good coffee” to the right of a 2D depiction of a steaming cup of coffee….”


Also see:

An AIDS Panel for a Mother

Analysis of thick description


Prownian Analysis

What does the Prownian Analysis do?

The Prownian Analysis allows us to recognize and interpret the historical significance of the objects we encounter.

What does it mean for an object to “embody” culture?

Every object represents an aspect of the culture that created it. For example, a pencil “embodies” our culture’s value of writing- of self-expression. This need to put to paper what we think or see or believe is what lead to the creation of the pencil.

What do you think it means for an object to be “expressive” or “culturally potent?”

Some objects are more explicit with their cultural significance. For example, a fire hydrant may be seen to represent the culture’s concern with safety or maybe their fear of death and destruction. However, what is the cultural aspect does a cork board embody? There is a universe of answers, they just are not as obvious as with the fire hydrant.

According to Haltman/ Prown, what is most important when composing a description of an object of study?

The most important part of the description is to avoid conclusions. Describe the container of clear liquid rather than just concluding that it is a water bottle. These conclusions not only shorten your description but they limit your interpretation.

What are the steps of a Prownian Analysis?

  1. Description
  2. Deduction
  3. Speculation
  4. Research
  5. Interpretive Analysis

How does the use of “signify” in this text conflict with Berthoff’s theory of language?

Haltman claims that objects signify their culture and we must work with words to interpret them, however, Berthoff claims that our words signify our own perception, which was built by our experiences and environment (the objects that surround us).


Also see:

Analysis of “Essays in Material Culture”

What is a “thick description”?


Analysis of “Essays in Material Culture”

Haltman Analysis

Audience: scholars and students

Prownian Analysis (by Jules Prown)

*This process is used for the study of history to help students become aware of the historical evidence in their environment. It allows for articulation of historical significance and its “production” (1). Ask: who made this? Why? How is it used? How was it used? What does it say about its culture?

*”All objects signify”, so we must ask “what does the object signify?,” “How expressively does the object signify?,” and ” what polarities does this object deal with?” What they say is just as important as how they say it (2). We must analyze the materials used to represent or enforce historical beliefs or practices. This allows us to develop “fruitful” questions and teaches us how to ask them. 

The Process

  1. Description—document details but remember to keep an eye on the big picture (ask: what do these details do for the big pictures?). It is best to write with “the flow of narrative” (3). A good description is rich with “nuanced vocabulary” written with an active voice (4). Ask: What is the object’s visual and physical effect in words?
  2. Deduction—Evaluate your emotional response in a similar fashion. Describe the reason you picked this piece and how its details make you feel. Ask: what about the object evokes these feelings? The point is to recognize the ways in which the object create its effect.
  3. Speculation— Entertain hypotheses about what your object signifies. Ask: what does it accomplish? What polarities does it represent and why?
  4. Research— Start asking questions and answer them using secondary research (primary would be your object). Document your journey and be creative with your research. Create an annotated bibliography.
  5. Interpretive Analysis
  • The process is subjective; No two individuals will interpret a given object in the same way. The point is to create an original interpretation- No one else should have been able to write this paper.
  • Do not forget to keep returning to the object.

“While only some of culture takes material form, the part that does records the shape and imprint of otherwise more abstract, conceptual, or even metaphysical aspects of that culture that they quite literally embody” (1)

Paraphrase: Objects are a physical analysis or representation of abstract or conceptual aspects of a culture, like a corset representing the importance of women having a thin waist at the time. Beauty over comfort.

“Select the object on which they wish to work, the thought being that some sort of significant sympathetic vibration may occur signaling the potential for that particular individual to uncover some significant meaning in that particular object” (2)

Paraphrase: The motivation the historian has to pick the object they pick in itself is a bias/analysis of the objects significant meaning and unique perception

“Material culture begins with a world of objects but takes place in a world of words” and “The medium in which we work as a cultural historian is language” (4)

Paraphrase: The only way we can describe an object is through words. The way we use words to describe the object invites bias and perception and our analysis relies on this unique perception.

-This language “effectively determines the bounds of possible interpretation.”  The language limits and explores interpretation, making the choice of words extremely important (4).




Prown, Jules David, and Kenneth Haltman. American Artifacts: Essays in Material Culture. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2000


Also see:

Prownian Analysis

What is a “thick description”?