MARIAN E. WRIGHT WRITING CENTER

Serving students and faculty since 1971

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As I sit here marveling at my latest compositional masterpiece, I find myself filled with self-doubt.  Does the essay fulfill the requirements of the task assigned to me?  If it does not, I humbly apologize.

Speaking of apologies, this apology reminds me of several other actions in my life for which I probably should apologize.

Once, at the age of four I ripped the ‘Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Law’ label from my grandmother’s pillow while I was supposed to be taking a nap.  When I realized what I had done I quietly crawled out the open window and secretly disposed of the pillow in the Great North Woods.  For that, I humbly apologize.

My brother and two younger cousins once placed a penny on the railroad tracks that run parallel to M-28 in the U.P. to see what it would look like after the train ran over the coin.  They stared at the flattened penny in wide-eyed amazement until I (and my ego) did the same thing with a nickel, thus one-upping (or four-upping if you have an accountant’s mind) them and stealing a part of their childhood innocence.  For that, I humbly apologize.

At the age of nine, while trying to mow the lawn, I found the lawnmower wouldn’t start.  I convinced my little brother to hold onto the spark plug wire while I pulled on the starter rope so we could see if electricity was reaching the spark plug.  Apparently the mower was out of gas.  For that, I humbly apologize.

When I was twelve my 16 year-old cousin had a job and used to buy ice cream that he kept buried in the snow where his younger siblings could not find and eat it.  I dug it up one day even though I didn’t eat ice cream.  I did, however, enjoy feeding it to the neighborhood dogs.  For that, I humbly apologize.

In high school I once went on a date with fashionista.  I wore white pants in January.  For that, I humbly apologize.

I once won a radio call-in contest even though my uncle was an employee of the station.  For that, I humbly apologize.

When I was 19 and playing on a travelling hockey team, during a meal at a tournament in St. Louis I convinced one teammate that lamb fries were French fries cooked in lamb fat. He ‘enjoyed’ 12 of them.  For that, I humbly apologize.

At the age of 25 I once took a ‘green’ crew chief on a vertical ascent at 80% throttle and then, at an altitude of 8,000 feet cut all power to the main rotor for a 10 second freefall so he could ‘experience weightlessness’.  For that, I humbly apologize to the maintenance man that had to hose out the bird.

At 30 I went to dinner with a ‘lady friend’ in Pensacola, Florida.  She convinced me to eat clams (which I’d never had before).  I would now like humbly apologize for saying they tasted like “ a gonad dipped in motor oil”.

Skip to the present.  A dear friend asked me to write something funny.  If I didn’t, I humbly apologize.

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angry animated GIF

 

 

A recent poll of 314 million Americans by the Institute for Impracticable Statistical Studies has found that the average person has one testicle and one breast.  Knowing that I am above average in one of those categories has given me the confidence to write a blog post in which I admit my struggles with yet another embarrassing rhetorical affliction:  paronomasia.  My first attack of paronomasia occurred during naptime when I was in kindergarten.  Police were called to the school because I was resisting a rest. With that in mind I think information about this often-misunderstood disease would be of great benefit to the afflicted and those who try to love them.

What Is It?

Paronomasiacs are obsessed with a form of word play that suggests multiple meanings for a single phrase by exploiting:

  • the various meanings of words, and
  • the similar sounds of certain words, for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect.

Cases of paronomasia can be classified into three common, but distinctive varieties.

Homophonic

The most frequently occurring variety of paronomasia is homophonic, which uses word pairs that are not synonymous, but sound alike. For example, in the phrase “I work as a baker because I knead the dough,” the word ‘knead’ appears in place of its homonym ‘need’, altering the common phrase “need the dough.”   Hilarious!  Right?  If you think so, I encourage you to see a doctor at your earliest convenience.

Homographic

Those afflicted with Homographic Paronomasia exploit words that are spelled the same, but possess different meanings and sounds. In HP examples, the infected words typically exist in two different parts of speech and often rely on unusual sentence construction, as in the phrase,  “A blind man picked up a hammer and saw.”  This paronomasiacal example relies on ‘saw’s’ ability to function as both a noun and a verb.   Have you ever tried to tuna fish?  Most people I know find this phrase so funny that they bypass the ‘groan as laughter’ and clench their teeth tightly together in order to avoid laughing.  It’s a neat trick that really works.  Feel free to use it whenever necessary.

Homonymic

For chronic sufferers of paronomasia (and those that must associate with them) the homonymic is often the most painful variety because it combines both homophonic and homographic paronomasia into one maddening disorder. In other words, sufferers exploit terms that are both homographs and homophones!  The statement “Being in politics is just like playing golf: you are trapped in one bad lie after another” plays with the two meanings of the word lie as ‘a deliberate untruth’ AND as ‘the position in which something rests’.  Friends of homonymic paronomasiacs often endure painful merriment so raucous that they must leave the room in order to avoid self-injury from the rib-splitting laughter.  I have often cleared a room and sat in admiration of my own rhetorical brilliance.

Conclusion

Sufferers of paronomasia often operate under the delusion that their word butchery is clever, witty, and a source of humor for those around them.  They often lose the ability to discern the sound of groans from the sounds of laughter.  Friends and coworkers of chronic paronomasiacs often feel as though they have to wade through punch lines when in the presence of their former friend.

While there is no current cure for paronomasia, sufferers (those around the paronomasiac) can minimize outbursts in three ways:  1.) Avoid conversations with the afflicted that encourage ‘clever’ and ‘witty’ repartee, 2.) Interrupt paronomasiacs often, thus derailing their train of thought, and 3.) Keep a roll of duct tape handy.

And that, my friends is the blog topic for today.  As a recovering paronomasiac, I would like to think that I have conquered my affliction.  I’m all groan up and blogging on my own and I have the feeling that this writing will some day win me fame, new friends to replace those driven away by uncontrolled laughter, and maybe even a no bell prize.

Remember, paronomasia is not punny.

 

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During our writing spirt week from October 20th until October 24th we will be having a traveling story. Each day the story will be out around campus. Add a line and watch the story unfold. While it is not out it will be located inside the writing center. We will be keeping the story updated below for you to follow along with.

Check out our Facebook for more details and photos as the week goes on

https://www.facebook.com/mewwritingcenter/photos/a.236811539706171.71673.163526043701388/742991982421455/?type=1&theater

 

Traveling Story

Running late! Not the best way to begin. “I wonder,” she said to no one in particular, “If this is a result of the curse the gypsy spat in my face at the carnival yesterday?” She giggled to herself as she closed the door.

But suddenly a squirrel threw an acorn at her. “What the…” she said. She turned around but the squirrel was already gone.

Jasmine has looked at her watch and realized that she was 30 minutes late but she looked up too late and ran into a pole.

After getting up from realizing what just happened, there was the handsome Aladin standing there laughing, but then ran to her rescue. Like a good luck charm, her neighbor, Aladin, always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. “You looked frazzled, Jasmine. Need some help?”

“I’m over 30 minutes late for an important appointment, can you give me a ride?”

As she climbed in his car she was shaking her head. Curses, good luck charms, omens… what a lot of nonsense she thought.

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Grandma Knowknow

Eat Your Peas and Carrots and Don’t Split Your Infinitives.

Dissociative Infinitive Disorder (a.k.a. split infinitive disease) is a linguistic ailment associated with early grammar trauma and characterized by adverbial intrusion of the full infinitive.

What Is Dissociative Infinitive Disorder?

Most of us have experienced mild cases of infinitive dissociation, but to fully understand split infinitive disease we will first need to clearly define what an infinitive is. According to Wikipedia, “an infinitive is a grammatical term used to refer to certain verb forms that exist in many languages.” Well that’s not a very satisfying definition. Leave it to Wikipedia to utterly fail in its attempt to profoundly contribute anything useful to academic research. To further clarify, the English language has two types of infinitives: bare and full. Bare infinitives are simply the verbs one is most likely to easily find in the dictionary. Some examples are: understand, define and fail. A full infinitive, on the other hand is simply a bare verb with the word ‘to’ placed in front of it. Some examples are: to understand, to define and to fail. To ‘split’ an infinitive means to carelessly place an adverb between the ‘to’ and whichever verb one chooses to cleverly employ. Some examples are: to fully understand, to clearly define and to utterly fail.

Is Dissociative Infinitive Disorder a Real Problem?

Grammarians have begun to genuinely wonder if Dissociative Infinitive Disorder is an ailment to really worry about. It might help if speakers and writers were to completely understand the origin of the ‘split infinitive’ rule. To fully appreciate Dissociative Infinitive Disorder we must resolve to admiringly thank our Victorian ancestors whose devotion to Latin led to many of the grammatical rules that we are forced to faithfully learn in grammar school today. Without going into a primer on Latin, basically the Victorian grammarians decided that, since Latin does not allow speakers to ever split infinitives, neither should English.

The Outlook for Those with Dissociative Infinitive Disorder.

The good news for those of us that tend to inadvertently insert adverbs between the ‘to’ and its infinitive verb is that the rules of common usage (common sense) are coming to quickly rescue us. The bad news, however, is many teachers don’t fully understand Dissociative Infinitive Disorder and delight in their ability to easily find split infinitives in student writing. So, at least in academic writing, it is best to always avoid splitting infinitives. It appears that those of us who suffer from Dissociative Infinitive Disorder will continue to vainly struggle against the overbearing tendency of academia to blandly throttle our creativity.

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Writing is a stop-and-start process for me.  Yeah, groundbreaking stuff here folks.  This is true for most writers I talk to, but I’ve found my own stops-and-starts can be identified by category, or conspirator. I’ll explain.

Some are interruptions. I’m a husband and father of three, so even if I’m barricaded in my office with “do not disturb” instructions, it’s only a matter of time before someone bursts through the door with some urgent demand like, “Hey dad, come check out this funny thing on TV (trust me, this is urgent).” What’s more, we have three dogs (yes, you read that right), so I’m certain to be interrupted by canine clamoring to be petted or barking that demands to go outside in futile pursuit of yet another squirrel. Interruptions are simply uninvited breaks I blame on others.

Some are distractions. I can be slave to a short attention span when I write. I need something to eat, or I need another drink (or now my bladder’s full and I need to visit another room in the house); or my phone beckons as someone just texted me, or I’ve got new email; or “hey, I see a squirrel out the window,” or “I think I hear a funny thing on TV.” Distractions I have no one to blame for but myself.

Some are necessities. I have to go to work, or class, or attend my son’s school activity. Sometimes my brain is fried and my eyes are glazing over from staring at a monitor for too long. Sometimes the clock reminds me to go to bed. Necessities are life.

A strange and increasingly favorite category is what I call the “3AM wake-up call.” Maybe you can relate. Deep in slumber, my brain itself conspires to wake me at the oddest hours, refusing to let go of a fresh or relevant piece to the textual puzzle. Depriving me of sleep, these awakenings can be nuisances, leading to an inner debate to get up and write immediately or to convince myself I’ll remember later if I go back to sleep. I’ve learned the hard way that if I do remember, it’s with far less clarity. These lessons have led to the habit of keeping a writing pad next to the bed, for fear I’ll miss the next jewel.

I now both expect and mostly (the dogs can be annoying) welcome these breaks—these moments of stepping away from a writing, for one simple reason. Even when I’m away from the text, I’m never really away from the words. As I change environments, my mind continues to mull and churn, often rewarding me with a new idea or solution to a wording problem I couldn’t resolve before. I recognize breaks as an invaluable part of the writing process, so I leverage them in any writing project.

Embrace writing’s “stepping away,” in all its forms, the next great idea or key to unlocking that essay might await.

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In our quest for knowledge, we write in order to express ourselves, but we must first read if we ever hope to gain any of that knowledge.

As a writer I am able to express my thoughts and ideas. I am free to open my mind and unleash it upon the world, but before I can even think about unleashing anything, I must first learn to open my mind. Before I can open my mind I must first feed it, so I read…

Reading gives us knowledge, inspiration, it feeds our imaginations, and can unlock knew doors within our minds that we may never have known existed. Reading is the fuel for our minds and the sustenance for our souls.

Reading and writing have always been an important part of my life, so I would like to take this opportunity to share some of the inspirations that have fed my mind. At a young age my first memorable book was “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien was a pioneer of the fantasy genre that we all know and love today. “The Hobbit” is a quick fun read. If you are a fan of the movies I suggest reading this book. I will make the same recommendation for “The Lord of the Rings,” if you are a fan of the movies these books are a must read. Being a huge fan of the fantasy genre I would like to recommend, not only the all popular “Game of Thrones” series by George Martin, but also a series called “The Sword of Truth” by Terry Goodkind. Goodkind is a captivating writer that seems to have the ability to always keep you guessing. At times I found myself reading as fast as I could in anticipation to see what was going to happen next. For the science fiction fans out there I would like to recommend “Robot Dreams” by Issac Asimov. “Robot Dreams” is a collection of short stories by Asimov about anything from robots questioning there existence and discovering their sentience to immortal energy based creatures traveling throughout the universe searching for the meaning of life. My favorite short stories from this collection are “Eye’s do More Than See,” “Does a Bee Care,” and “The Last Answer.” Finally I would like to suggest “Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse. This enlightening book is a refreshing read about the life of the first Buddha, Siddhartha. In this book we stare into the depths of the human soul as we follow Siddhartha down his path of life, an experience of both harshness and beauty, as he searches for his inner “Om.” Reading this book gave me a sense of inner peace and a clearer perspective of life.

In any case, whatever genre you may prefer, make sure to have a good read every once and a while. A good book can brighten the mind and illuminate the soul!

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Act One

I adore literature.  My mom used to say that she only recognized me by the top of my head because of the time spent engrossed in a book.  If you ask me what book is my favorite, I will have a hard time choosing.  There’s the one that makes me cry with each read.  But then there’s the one that makes me laugh out loud every time.  My gauge depends on how the writing engaged my heart.

 

“I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.”

James Michener

What about you?

How many times have you sung along with a love song, wondering how they knew just how you felt?  Found a poem that spoke your heart?  Composed a letter that captured your thoughts in just the right way?  Devoured a book, marveling that the writer described your experience precisely?  Writing that moves us reflects what it really means to be human in this world.

 “The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain

and goes straight to the heart.”

 Maya Angelou

 But have you tried to write that poignant poem?  Attempted to capture your experience so readers will understand?  Watched the words fall into place?  Know that phrase is just right?

 “The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean;

not to affect your reader, but to affect him precisely as you wish.”   

Robert Louis Stevenson

  Yet, the beauty of writing is that it is possible to capture that common ground.

 

 

Act Two

A true love story that haunts me…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 The doctor slowly entered the office, reserved and solemn.  “Your wife will not be getting better,” he said.  The young husband sat still, taking in the news.  “She’ll be able to walk around, but she’ll never be independent again.  She won’t regain her speech…or her personality…or her memories.”

Only ten years into their marriage, this woman developed a sudden medical condition that robbed her of herself.  She would require constant care for the rest of her life but remain inert, unresponsive, a mere shadow of the person he loved dearly.

 

His family said, “Institutionalize her.  You won’t have a life otherwise.”  He did not.

His friends said, “Divorce her.  You’ll be financially devastated otherwise.”  He would not.

 

Thirty-five years later, he still is married to her, shouldering the burden of her care.  She cannot speak…has not regained her personality…and does not remember him.

His friends say, “Why do you continue to do this?  She doesn’t know you.”

 

He quietly replies, full of tenderness, “But…I know her.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Happy Valentine’s Day

 

 

( all quotes from http://www.brainyquote.com)

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Hello reader. Today we’re going to talk about what I’m currently studying.
I would love to talk about what you’re studying, but unfortunately I am the writer and I am calling the shots around here.

In Professor Zeff’s Women & Ficton course, we’ve been reading work by Virginia Woolf.

Every time I begin a study of a writer, I always find myself googling her name and seeing what interesting bits of information I can discover about her without actually having to apply myself to my assigned work (this is an example of procrastination if you are that one college student who has never procrastinated and wouldn’t be able to spot it if they saw it).
So far, one of my favorite things about Woolf is the way in which she analyzes literature; the way it works and the way we appreciate it. While reading through a list of quotes, I stumbled across a gem of hers that I wish I could email to a sixteen year old me who spent too much time arguing my “superior” (my partner is rolling his eyes as he reads this) taste in everything:

“…but is Hamlet a better play than Lear? Nobody can say. Each must decide that question for himself. To admit authorities, however heavily furred and gowned, into our libraries and let them tell us how to read, what to read, what value to place upon what we read, is to destroy the spirit of freedom which is the breath of those sanctuaries. Everywhere else we may be bound by laws and conventions — there we have none……few people ask from books what books can give us. Most commonly we come to books with blurred and divided minds, asking of fiction that it shall be true, of poetry that it shall be false, of biography that it shall be flattering, of history that it shall enforce our own prejudices. If we could banish all such preconceptions when we read, that would be an admirable beginning. Do not dictate to your author; try to become him” (Woolf, The Common Reader, Second Series)

If we had all read and accepted this quote when we were sixteen, I’m sure I’m not the only one who would have saved time wasted on useless debates about taste in music, film, and writing.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about critique and giving my opinion, but I would like to take back any of the times I ever shoved that opinion down the throat of someone who happened to think differently.

And that line, “Do not dictate to your author; try to become him”? That is what we are all about here at the writing center. We’re not going to tell you HOW to write, we’re going to talk about you as a writer and what we can do to facilitate that role for you, or at least put you at ease with the idea if you’d never considered it before.

Anyway, that quote is just a taste of Woolf and what I am studying.
Take it with you and keep it in mind the next time your roommate wants to argue about what the best shows on Netflix are.

And if you think I deserve extra credit for researching and blogging about Woolf in my spare time, please see Professor Zeff.

(photo courtesy of bloggingwoolf.wordpress.com)

(I’m mostly kidding about the extra credit)

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Sometimes you find yourself in some sort of sticky situation, or dark time.

photo (3)

Everything seems impossible or improbable. The odds seem to be against you, and no matter what you put to the page, you just hate it. You’re hard on yourself and don’t give yourself the breathing space to realize it’s just a first draft and you can always make changes later. You’re so busy with all your obligations, and commitments, that when it comes to this part of your life, whether you wanted to write just for personal stuff or in hopes of getting published one day, it feels like it’s unimportant by comparison to everything else, or you have to push it off repeatedly, or you’ll never find the time you want to get those ideas down.

I’ve been going through something like that these days. I try to write, and for some reason, it’s difficult to get this story I’m working on out of my head and onto the screen and the page. I’ll stare at it, and try to write about it, and write stuff and then erase it, and so on.

Of course, everyone has something that works for them, but I’ve been finding, as I’ve been stuck on this piece, that talking to people about it has helped tremendously. Having a conversation is a form of collaboration, and it also happens during writing center appointments.

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Every time I’ve made an appointment or spoken with a friend or a mentor, it helped me to center my ideas for the project and focus on them, reevaluate and assess them, meditate on them, make changes, etc. Being asked different questions about the story and also being given a chance to vent about it has also helped me consider how plausible some things were and ask questions about the logic behind events and setting, characters, etc.

This is not something that I would have been able to accomplish as effectively on my own. There’s just no real adequate substitute for encountering and listening to another person’s perspective. You can try to write it out for yourself, and have a conversation with yourself, record it, and that can work to an extent, but in all of that, you’re still working with just your perspective. You can try to pretend to look at it with another’s eyes, but being the closest person to your story, you’ll see things differently than the people with whom you share it.

photo (1)

That’s just a distance thing– it’s like looking at an art piece in a gallery– if you see the canvas up close, you see details, expressions, fine lines, color variation, etc. However, from that distance, it’s also hard to see the entire composition. When you step back, you see the whole of what’s going on. The figures whose contours looked stretched from where you stand now become straighter. There was a boat there– from where you stood, you didn’t even see it. Out of the corner of your eye, it looked like a rock.

When you’re stuck in this kind of situation, it can be tempting to put the piece away for a while. Out of sight, out of mind. You can try to find distance from it, and some people find this successful. It can be okay to occasionally step away from the problem.

But sometimes, this is just plain running away from it. The story got hard to work with, so you begin to make excuses. Suddenly your job becomes a bit more interesting. You start to do more homework instead of procrastinate with it.

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But if you’re a writer, and the kind of writer who wants to finish their writing, no matter what they choose to do with it in the end, you are also an artist. And artists, by definition, are also problem solvers. If they make a mistake on the canvas, or whatever medium they are working with, they have to find a way to make it seem like the mark was intended all along, or hide it so that it blends in with the rest of the piece, becomes a harmonized part of it.

That will take work. Staying away from the piece won’t change it. As a writer, if this is really a part of you in general, it’s also your job to stay true to it, to spend time with it, work with it, try to understand it, nurture it, grow from it until something finally clicks.

Then you walk away with more experience. And an accomplishment. You finally pulled through, you made it, the storm passed, and you can move forward.

But in that moment, when it gets tough, and you feel lost, and are unsure how you want to go about it, who knows? Maybe just one conversation will help you get back on track.

 

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Scholarship applications for UM-Flint are coming up fast! The application process opens December 9th, 2013 and remains open until February 14th, 2014. Also, check out the Financial Aid website for other great scholarship opportunities.

The scholarship essay is a critical part of the application process, and at the Marian E. Wright Writing Center, we can help you get started and go over drafts of your essay. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when writing your essay:

1. Be sure to cover everything the scholarship prompt ask for, and follow the directions exactly. There are many reasons why scholarship committees ask for things the way they do. So, don’t give them a reason to throw yours out.
2. Be specific. Avoid writing something that 500 other applicants might also say. For instance, if you want to be a teacher, don’t just rely on “I want to teach because I like children.” That won’t help you stand out. However, showing a moment when you worked with a child and made an impact on that child’s life, and in turn how that moment made an impact on yours, shows not only your commitment, passion, and qualities as a teacher, but it also serves as the “proof” so to speak of your dedication to children and teaching.
3. Think about the important markers on your path, and how your life experiences have shaped you, challenged you, and helped you make decisions about future goals. Don’t forget those great classroom moments, and mentoring moments with professors!
Lastly, once you have a draft of your essay, have someone else look at it, and give you feedback. Sometimes what we write and what we meant to write are a little different. You won’t be there to explain your essay, so make sure it says and means what you intended.

The Writing Center can be a great second pair of eye and ears. Come in and see us soon!