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.

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

 

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”?

 

An AIDS Panel for a Mother

Lisa Brown:

A mother, A daughter, Another lost one

Recently, I went to the NAMES Project Foundation and picked a panel from the AIDS quilt. I chose panel 1 of block 4994. This panel was made in honor of Lisa Brown by her son, Robert Brown. With this panel, I will use the Prownian Analysis to interpret the panel as material culture. The first step of this analysis is a thick description of the panel, where I describe in as objective language as possible every detail I experience from the panel.

Block: 4994, Panel: 1

 

The panel’s background is made of a rough, beige canvas material. The material is wrinkled and most likely cheap. The panel is three feet by six feet with the depictions framed portrait (vertically).

Top half

The center of the top half contains a circle divided in four quarters of color, 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. The material of the circle is different from the base material. It is fuzzier like felt. The white felt has a spot about two inches by one inch that is slightly gray and fraying like someone rubbed it. The quarters are sewn together at an invisible seam (no thread visible), however, there is a bulge where you can see the edge that was folded over to make a sort of hem. The outer rim of the circle was not folded over to create a hem and has a visible thread attaching the circle to the background.  The thread is black, thin, and continuous (the stitches were small and close together).

The spaces above, below, left, and right of the circle depict naturalistic predatory birds. These birds appear to have been painted or printed on a separate piece of fabric that they have now been cut out of and glued to the background material. The birds to the east and west of the circle facing away from the circle in mid-flight pose (wings outstretched). They are about two inches by one inch in size. They are made up of white, black, sandy brown, and light brown. The cuts on the birds are boxy. The southern bird is slightly larger with a landing pose (legs outstretched and wings stretched behind the body). The eyes are slightly darker and larger than the side birds. Its colors are white, sandy brown, black, and dark gray. The biggest bird is the northern (top) bird. It’s about four inches by two inches. The bird appears at the lift-off of flight (wings-outstretched, but legs slightly lower than the rest of its body). It’s made up of white, black, light brown, dark brown, and light gray. Its eye is actually colored and has a pupil, unlike the others. The eye is a yellowish brown. The cuts bordering the bird are more curved than the others. Along the diagonal axis (pointed to by the seams of the circle quarters) are illustrated cloths.

In the corners, there are cloths about one foot by ten inches that have wavy edges. The material is a slightly off-white woven canvas that is less pliable than the background canvas, like a clothing patch. They are sewn into the background fabric with beige, thin thread in a zigzag stitch. On the material is a printed depiction of nature with a color scheme of grayish blues, browns, grays, black, and white. What would be normally green in nature, like leaves or grass, are colored grayish blue in the pictures. Whatever is normally blue, like water or sky, there is no color, just exposed material.

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. the deer is about six inches by three inches. It is accompanied to the left by two further away deer: one with antlers like the main deer and one without. To the right of the deer is a squirrel midway up a tree. The picture is framed by two clusters of trees, the right clump closer in the frame than the other and appears to have a gray mound behind it. the trees appear to be birch, however, is the distance there are what appear to be evergreens. On the ground, there is a river running through clumps of grass. Right in front of the deer is a sprinkling of small white flowers with yellow centers.

The patch to the top right depicts a mother bear and her two cubs. The two cubs are to the right of the centered mother bear, facing her. One cub stands on its hind legs on the ground while the other is perched at the top of a tree. The trees framing this image look like oaks. The mother bear is a darker brown than the cubs. Behind the scene is the same mountains and evergreens as the previous image.  Below the cubs are the same white flowers with yellow centers as the as before and to the left of the of the mother bear is another gray mound. Below this mound is two clumps of light and sandy brown mushrooms amidst clumps of grass and bushes.

 

The patch to the bottom left is a depiction of a buffalo. the left of the main buffalo, who stands about six inches by four inches, are four further away buffalo who appear to be grazing with their heads lowered towards the grass. Above the main buffalo, in the sky are two predatory birds. the rightmost bird is an exact copy of the bird south of the center circle and the biggest bird is a copy of the bird north of the circle.  There are dispersed mountains in the back and no trees. Two bushes frame the photo along with two clumps of the white flowers.

The bottom right patch image is of a moose. it is about six inches by four inches. It has a full profile view with the front leg closest to the viewer raised. Above the moose are two flying ducks with green heads. To the right of the moose are three swimming ducks further away.  The moose is standing in shallow water with a cattail plant near its mouth and a log and shore an inch below its feet. There are mountains and evergreen trees in the background and tall grass clumps in the foreground with two clumps of the white flowers.

Bottom half

The bottom half of the panel is decorated with handwritten letters and hand-drawn symbols, most likely done with markers.

 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.

Following this writing is larger writing, each letter about four inches tall. The larger writing reads “I LOVE you mom.” The words are scrawled in blue, curving downwards towards the right like the maker ran out of room.

 

Below the writing is an array of symbols. At the very bottom in the center is a pair of small blue exclamation points. Right above this is the biggest of these symbols is a black bear footprint about two inches by two inches framed with pairs of what looks like human shoe prints or exclamation points with five toes at the top of each one. The right pair of prints is blue while the others are black. Left of these tracks appears to be a smiley face composed with eyes and a nose made out of exclamation points. To the left of this blue face is a pair of two blue blockier exclamation points. Above and to the right of this face is a pair of blue exclamation points, the same size as the black human footprint, with three small lines emerging from the bottom dots like eyelashes. To the right of the tracks is a pair of tall, but thin exclamation points in blue ink.

 

Also see:

What is a “thick description”?

Analysis of thick description

Ethos of Lisa Brown’s panel