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by Ethan T

This is the End: This story’s old, but it goes on and on until we disappear…

May 7, 2019 in Writing

I don’t know what I expected sitting in the Humanities computer lab that first week of class in late January. I knew that Writing 102 was a required class for all Stony Brook students, and I was biting the bullet and taking the class in freshman year just to check a box off of a list. However, in the three months since, I have learned a lot about myself as a writer and about the writing process as a whole.

Rhetoric, as I knew it, was the ability of a writer to convince their readers through the usage of specific textual strategies, which worked to manipulate the audience. The most commonly used terms with regards to this were ethos, logos, and pathos. Through the course, my understanding of rhetoric grew when I had to write my researched argument, convincing readers why the stance I took on an issue was important and backing it up with researched evidence and professional papers. My usage of rhetoric also changed when I had to weave narratives from documenting a search to recalling moments of education. Having worked with scientific research papers in the past, I found their implementation in my researched argument essay to be an easier task than expected.

In high school, the academic writing that I did stayed largely formal. Aside from a few lighthearted exercises such as writing satire, the essays I wrote all followed the blueprint that was most preferred by the AP exams. The mechanical nature of high school English assignments meant that I often plugged-and-played in order to write the best essays, and while it helped me get good grades, I felt the burden of its repetitive structure. In Writing 102, none of my essays followed the traditional five-paragraph structure. I used five-paragraph introductions, body paragraphs that cited multiple sources, and other techniques which would have been forbidden back in high school.

As a writer, I feel that I have developed a better grasp of my informal voice. Heavy usage of “I” pronouns would have also been frowned upon in the AP-driven courseload of high school, and I was shocked to hear my professor encourage them, especially in what I perceived to be the most formal essay, the researched argument. It felt contradictory to me; the mere presence of an “I” was enough for me to deem a paper informal. Still, the culture shock allowed me to grow and open my eyes to a style of writing that is both valid and effective. Informal writing can more easily grasp a casual audience than formal writing, which may come off as bland and pretentious to the unwelcome eye.

Before I left for college, my dad told me to make sure that I take a writing class, just to keep my writing skills sharp as I took on a difficult STEM-focused schedule. While I was a skeptic at first, thinking that I didn’t need to improve myself anymore as a writer, I now completely see what he was getting at.

by Ethan T

Faulty Minds, The Sequel

April 17, 2019 in Writing

Since doing research about my topic, the most interesting thing that I have learned is that anxiety has surpassed depression as the most common mental health disorder, affecting anywhere from between 38% to 55% of all college students. This fact surprised me because for a while, I had conflated the ideas of anxiety and depression as being similar, when in reality the differences between the two conditions is valid and warrants separation. However, many people also have more than one co-occurring mental health issue, such as how 40% of people with depression also have anxiety.

Since I am writing this paper on a different topic than my I-Search Essay, I cannot state what changed in my line of thinking from then until now, but I do know what changed in my line of thinking before I did this research. This article in particular that I am reading, “Trends in college students’ mental health diagnoses and utilization of services, 2009–2015”, made me aware that mental health issues in college students are far more commonplace than anyone could have ever expected. When numbers such as “Forty-four percent of students experience periods of severe distress (eg, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal ideation)” are being thrown around, it makes me feel like the issue is more serious than people will admit.

by Ethan T

Faulty Minds

April 6, 2019 in Writing

I am writing my research paper on the topic of mental health. Specifically, it deals with how I believe that American citizens are increasingly suffering from worsened mental health. I chose this topic after recent events involving people I know made me increasingly interested and concerned about the overall mental health trends in the United States.

Did you know that the suicide rate globally has actually decreased? According to the BMJ Journal, the global suicide rate has declined 32.7% since 1990. However, in a report published by the CDC, entitled “Suicide Mortality in the United States, 1999–2017”, the suicide rate has actually increased 33%, standing in stark contrast to the rest of the world. (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db330.htm)

The rise in the United States’ suicide rate has been impactful enough to play a role in lowering the average life expectancy for American citizens now, a number which has gone down since 2016 after decades of steady climbing. The other main contributor to the lowered life expectancy number is the increase in fatal drug overdoses.

The CDC also discovered that half of the people who committed suicide in 2016 had no known prior mental health problems. However, I do believe that to be a faulty statistic. I believe that these people have suffered from mental health problems but have not publicly proclaimed that fact to mental health professionals. While these people may not have been documented as having mental health problems, that does not mean that they were not affected by it, and there needs to be a better way of citing those people as suffering from mental health. It is difficult to do so since the numbers are often self-reported. While I cannot use the fact as a counterclaim, I look forward to debunking it in my research essay.

by Ethan T

Annoying Ways People Write Blogs

April 6, 2019 in Writing

A research paper requires sources in order to be valid. While using sources can often feel like a burden because of how required they are, Kyle D. Stedman’s “Annoying Ways People Use Sources” takes a lighthearted approach to educating writers about properly citing works in research papers.

One thing about sources that I need to work on is introducing them properly. There are times when I will introduce an author of the source well, but not the source itself. Stedman says that it is best to introduce the author before bringing a quote to provide better context. I have a bad habit of just introducing the author in the middle of a quote.

Stedman also talks about integrating quotes in with proper grammar, another topic which personally affected me as I recalled prior instances where I failed to do so. As someone who personally dislikes using square brackets to alter the quotes of others, it is difficult sometimes when the quote of the paper does not match the tense that I am currently writing in. While I’ve always had a grudge against using square brackets, reading Stedman’s arguments make it clear that it is a hangup that I need to get over and begin using more. It is a better alternative that artificially altering the quote on my own and not alerting readers that I changed it.

Towards the end of Stedman’s article, he brings up yet another good point that I have to work on. In it, he talks about how writers will often cite a source, but it is unclear what facts are being cited. I can be personally sloppy with this because I often feel obligated just to get the source in to fulfill the requirements of the essay. This often occurs near the end of the writing process, when I write sloppily just to finish the paper. Stedman says that a solution would be to introduce the author prior to the fact that is being sourced, which goes hand in hand with the previous piece of advice he stated earlier. It’s all about the amount of effort that I need to put in to making sure the essay is the best that I can write.

by Ethan T

Research Revelations

April 1, 2019 in Writing

The entire process of the I-Search Essay made me incredibly uncomfortable. I was constantly lost, not knowing what to do and how to possibly start, until I realized that I was doing the process wrong. I had tried to develop an essay before doing the search instead of developing an essay about the search, which had negative effects on my writing. When I finally got a hold of the assignment, I knew that I did not want to reuse the same issue for the third and final paper, the research essay.

 

Having read through Steven D. Krause’s “The Research Essay”, I understood that Krause was offering advice on how to improve one’s research essay-writing skills. One important piece of advice that Krause gave was to take a unique, personal approach to a common topic. For example, he outlined how the overused topic of studying violent television on children can be altered to become more unique if focusing on different genres, age groups, or conclusions. This resonated with me because there are so many easy, basic topics that I could write an entire research essay about, but the most memorable ones are those that, even if touching upon an overdone topic, take a new approach.

 

Krause later touches upon the idea of a ‘voice’, which is something that I found interesting. When I was taught to write essays, I was taught to do so in a formal tone, writing professionally in an attempt to project a mature appearance. When Krause states that it is acceptable to use the pronoun ‘I’, it made me think about an approach to essay writing. I have always wanted to use a more conversational voice, guiding casual readers through a topic that they might not have much knowledge in.

 

However, Krause later clarifies this when he says that it is the overuse of ‘I’ that causes problems in a professional research essay. Doing so can draw the attention to the writer, but I plan on using ‘I’ to talk about the research in a less sophisticated manner. I’ll see how it goes in the process, but my mind is not made up on this topic yet.

 

Krause also brings up the ‘antithetical’ argument, which was taught to me as the counterargument. The necessity of the counterargument has varied from paper to paper, but I thought that it would be valuable for me to include one in this research essay just to show off the differing viewpoints. Krause saw it differently, and now I finally understand why they were suggested in the past. He says that “the point of presenting antithetical arguments is to explain why the point you are supporting with research is the correct one,” which is something I had never even thought of before.

 

Having read all of Krause’s paper, his revelation about the counterargument is what will stick with me the most. For my entire life, I had just took it to heart without wondering why it was always needed, and it seems like a switch in my head just flipped on.

by Ethan T

The Issues Right Here

March 5, 2019 in Writing

Much like the literacy narrative, I struggled to come up with ideas for the I-search essay. There are not many stories of my life that I enjoy telling, and it felt frightening for me to research an issue that would ultimately conclude in the raising of intensely personal questions. Brainstorming ideas is always the most difficult part of the writing process because my mind does not know what it wants to truly dive into.

However, my perspective changed when I realized I didn’t need to write about something with personal value in my life. There were so many issues that I were interested in learning more about that didn’t carry emotional weight. Specifically, I thought about my life as a current college student and compared my experiences to those of my peers that I had seen through social media. This helped me gain a general feel of the college atmosphere and issues that arise because of it. Topics such as college endowment, paying student-athletes, and the trend of students’ mental health came from that.

The issue of college endowment captured my interest once I became aware of this school’s disgraceful financial situation. Stony Brook’s financial endowment currently stands at a pitiful $233.9 million, which is a far cry from the Association of American Universities’ average of $1.8 billion. Essentially, this school deserves nearly eight times as much money as it is currently receiving, a situation which I find quite embarrassing and reflects extremely poorly on us as a school. Less prestigious universities in the local area like Hofstra and St. John’s receive nearly triple our funding, which should be inexcusable. I want to learn what goes into a college’s endowment and how colleges can work on increasing the funding they receive.

On the other hand, the topic of paying student-athletes has garnered incredible national attention recently after star Duke basketball player Zion Williamson suffered an injury on the court. Williamson, projected to be picked first in the upcoming NBA Draft, will have a fast-track to becoming a multi-millionaire as soon as he leaves college. However, NCAA rules currently state that Williamson cannot profit off his likeness, otherwise he would lose his eligibility. College athletics funnel in large sums of money to the university, yet the players making it happen will not receive a single penny from their hard work. The controversy has brewed for decades but finally appears to be reaching its tipping point. Now, I want to find out the core debates between people on both sides and discover how the debate originated and what the most likely course of action is from now on.

Lastly, it feels like the number of teenagers and college-aged students undergoing mental health crises are at an all-time high. More than ever, people are struggling to cope with internal issues. However, I am interested to do more research on this topic, because there are a number of biases that could come into play. It’s possible that social media has allowed more people to discuss their mental health issues publically. It is also possible that people feel more comfortable casually discussing mental health, and that the number of people suffering has not changed, just the number who make their struggles known. This is the issue with the most social weight that I had brainstormed, and I believe that it could lead to the most compelling essay.

by Ethan T

Patterns in the Ivy

February 28, 2019 in Writing

When William Zinsser wrote an article entitled “College Pressures”, the year was 1979. Yet, judging from the content of his writing, it would not be unreasonable to assume that it could have been writing within the last five minutes. As the college process has only gotten more competitive and taxing, Zinsser offers insight as to how life was like for Yale students in the 20th century. The anecdotes from dean Carlos Hortas showed just how stressed the students were, but what I found most riveting were the general viewpoints on grades. insser advocates for the “gentlemen’s C”, where a person would gain a well-rounded education instead of being heavily grade-focused. It seems preposterous in 2019 to even suggest that as a viable strategy, but Zinsser believes that employers should not look at grades and instead analyze the person. Meanwhile, the transcript had just started to become popular, and students struggled to recognize their newfound importance. These anecdotes from Yale were the beginning of a culture that would engulf in size and swallow all high school students as college became more prioritized.

This American Life’s podcast “Back to School” brings these issues back to the current day. Interviewer Ira Glass does a fantastic job discussing the issues plaguing modern education with author Paul Tough, who has studied childhood education and the paths for success within the game. While most students focus hard on scoring high for standardized tests and maintaining a respectable GPA, Tough also highlights the experiences faced by those in poverty. Students who must endure difficult living conditions outside of school face an extra roadblock compared to those who are only trying to boost their profile. The lack of resources offered to impoverished students makes it difficult for them to compete with those who have the ability to purchase tutors and study guides. Growing up in a well-off neighborhood, I was shielded from the struggles of the poor. High school education was cutthroat and competitive, but the scope of life that I was exposed to was incredibly limited. The podcast’s discussion of poverty was nuanced and helped humanize their experiences.

by Ethan T

Draft Dodgers

February 12, 2019 in Writing

From a young age, I was made well aware that the first draft was never going to be the defining version of a writing piece. “Do you think J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter in just one shot?” was always the rebuttal that I was given whenever I questioned teachers’ decisions to make us edit our work over and over again. I was convinced that I was above it all, that I had a naturally-given talent to start writing, never stop, and leave behind a flawless trail of words.

Eight-year old me would have been bewildered if he knew that ten years later, educators would still point to the first draft as a pale imitation of the final product. In Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts” and Donald Murray’s “The Maker’s Eye”, both authors detail the struggles they face during the beginning stages of writing. Lamott discusses how the first draft allows her to put all her thoughts out on paper, no matter how ridiculous they may appear to the average eye because there is not a chance that they will remain in the finished product. Both writers talk about how they can often be their own worst enemy. Murray explains how internal voices prevent writers from reaching their full potential, and that those afraid of taking risks write conservatively and often do not let their true voices shine. Lamott admits that in her past, she let her head dominate her writing for the worse.

After reading both essays, it became clearer to me that the mental component of writing is more complicated than meets the eye. A strategy I definitely agree with is Lamott’s advice to just completely free-write unrefined as your first draft. The editing down can be done later, but it is best to just put out all the information your brain is thinking of on paper for future reference. There have been so many times when a brilliant idea pops into my head, but I forget to catalog it on paper. Five minutes later, what once held so much promise has now completely evaporated.

With an essay like the literacy narrative, it is important to build up a strong background so that readers can understand the necessary context behind the story. Murray brings up a good point when he says that “The maker’s eye is never satisfied, for he knows that each word in his copy is tentative. Writing, to the writer, is alive, something that is full of potential and alternative, something that can grow beyond its own dream. The writer reads to discover what he has said-and then to say it better.” Writers might never be fully satisfied, but drafting helps iron out any potential problems that could severely hamper the essay.

Finally, a good strategy for developing writing is to develop a loose structure. While this is difficult in academic essays that require a strict regimen, there is still enough flexibility offered where a writer should just see where the piece takes them rather than attempting to fit a piece into a defined structure. Structured essays have the potential to read mechanically and generically. A writer’s unique voice can get bogged down when they are forced to adhere to a set of standards.

by Ethan T

Sponsor My Writing

February 7, 2019 in Writing

Literacy is often so present in our lives that we can take it for granted when we fail to remember that not everyone has access to such an essential skill. On the other hand, sponsorships are commonplace throughout society to the point where nearly every part of a money-making business has some sort of corporate tie-in. P.C. Richard and Sons currently sponsor the strikeout – yes, the strikeout – in Yankee Stadium. Whenever a batter strikes out, the famous P.C. Richard and Sons whistle blares across stadium loudspeakers in what has become a ubiquitous part of fandom.

In Deborah Brandt’s essay The Sponsors of Literacy, Brandt defines a literary sponsor as “any agent, local or distant, concrete or abstract, who enable, support, teach, model, as well as recruit, regulate, suppress, or withhold literacy – and gain advantage by it in some way.” Brandt states that it is important to understand literary sponsorship because the skill of literacy has historically been restricted by those with power. In the United States, African Americans had to act as their own literary sponsors for one another because society refused to do so for them, and Brandt illustrates how they taught themselves to understand Biblical texts as a form of self-liberation.

In my life, I was sponsored in literacy from a young age. I remember my parents signing up for reading programs that deposited a small hardcover Disney book in my mailbox each month, which I would read along with them. I remember being read stories at night before I was put to sleep. My family served as my literary sponsors, and as I evolved as a reader, school became my primary literary sponsor as I was given the freedom to choose a book and take it home starting from Kindergarten.

Literacy was never withheld from me at any point in my life. I could make the argument that I began to suppress my own literary growth starting in high school, when reading old texts that teachers assigned began to seem less self-fulfilling and more like a chore. I stopped reading because the stories were uninteresting, others encouraged me to, and because I was not enjoying the activity anymore. While I stopped immersing myself in full novel experiences, I still read plenty of articles online that pertained to specific hobbies of mine like music or sports. I felt the passion of literacy burn much stronger when doing that.

by Ethan T

On Literacy

February 5, 2019 in Blog, Literacy

In elementary school, as I was in the midst of beginning my journey as an English student, one of my teachers stated that two separate realms in which we had been working in – “reading” and “writing” – would be combined under one umbrella term: “literacy”. Instead of being told to work on our writing, we were now bridging the gap between works of others and works of our own whenever it was time to work on our “literacy”.

However, a series of texts recently redefined my understanding of the term “literacy”. Literacy is not simply the ability to read and write, and while we often label people as “literate” or “illiterate”, one can be literate in fields that are not simply the command of the English language. In Alex Reid’s “Why Blog”, Reid instantly invokes a famous quote from author Malcolm Gladwell and his book Outliers, in which he describes that one must practice a certain skill for 10,000 hours before that person can call themselves a ‘master’ of it. Reid defines “literacy” to be the mastering of one’s craft, and while he explains that the current college environment makes it difficult for the average student to gather enough hours to master the skill of writing and become fully “literate”, he advocates for self-expression through the form of blogs in order to help refine that skill as much as possible.

Similarly, Yang Huang discusses her experiences with language in “Why I Write In English”. Huang, born and raised overseas in China, learned several Chinese dialects at a young age and found comfort in her native one. Her command of literacy was high from a young age, yet when she moved to the United States, the world would have perceived her as “illiterate” due to her weak understanding of English. Huang’s internal conflict, the struggle between whether or not to write in her native language or to push herself and strive to become accomplished in English, illustrated how people perceive the literacy of foreign-language speakers and how difficult it can be for dual-language speakers to find their voice when writing in a new language.

Mike Rose’s “Blue Collar Brilliance” challenges the idea of literacy as being solely language-drive. Rose’s family of blue-collar workers demonstrated grit and leadership in their jobs, and he learned life skills by observing his mother’s stories as a waitress. While his mother dropped out of school in the seventh grade to take care of her family, she was still able to excel at her profession. Rose sees the work of blue-collar people to be just as difficult as office jobs. One must fully understand the usage of machines and tools in order to make a living, and learning the language of blueprints and maps is itself an accomplishment of its own. The negative attitudes held towards blue-collar workers are unwarranted and lead to their fields being underappreciated when literacy is involved in physical labor, even if most people do not interpret it that way.

Ethan T

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