Walking Forward, Backwards

So the new semester is in full swing and as I often do when I am confronted with something new, I’ve been looking back at the brief moments that have together domino-ed me to this point in space and time.  When looking back at the past, it’s easy to focus in on the times where smiles were in abundance and life seemed easy.  However, nostalgia is an opiate that bleeds the present of any promise.  Sure, the past needs to be remembered, but it’s better to keep your eyes focused forward and better still to keep your mind on the present moment (forever slipping away).

My thoughts on time are largely influenced by eastern philosophy, but there are condemnations of regretful living throughout the western canon of literature and philosophy as well.  The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche illustrated this with the idea of eternal recurrence: each person is condemned to make the same choices and live the same life eternally.

“What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘[t]his life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘[y]ou are a god and never have I heard anything more divine’ [Nietzsche, The Gay Science].

In Coming Up for  Air, George Orwell examines the false sense of security that lies dormant in every person’s past.  The main character forsakes everything in his present life to travel back to the quiet town of his English upbringing; only to find that there is nothing left for him there.  For better or worse, we are each stuck in our lives as they are right now.  Of course our prior decisions played a part in creating the present and our ambitions and dreams will guide our progress (somewhat at least), but to look too far ahead or too far behind is to miss the blooming flower, so to speak.

So in short, enjoy the moment. Remember, there is a lot to be learned from both of these great writers, as well as many others.  One day, I would like to contribute my own treatise on time and being…but for now, here is a short poem from my past:

The Sandbox Days

Sometimes,/When the moon looks an orange slice/ Or a yawning gibbon/ I dream about the sandbox days…

Of Raggedy Anne/ Paper Planes, swooping from me to you/ Back and forth,/ X’s and O’s,/ S.W.A.K. and Animated marsupials,/ Sonic rides in the K-car,/ Late nights that slip/ Into a morning covered in Mountain Dew.

(Further Back still…)

The sweet fragrance of red berries/ Glistening in the early light/ On the soft hairs/ Erect on the back of your neck./ Stinging bees that swarm/ a hive of hair/ Chasing a decade long gone by/ Dido in the arms of an angel/ And whatever monsters wait/ In the dark of all corners and closets.

(And Today)

There is the full blown sunrise/ Clear and new, burning away/ Each memory with the OM/ The prayers and chakras/ Incantations and incense…

And I return to my instauration/ Which is the difference between Three/ And Twenty Three

Unfiltered

So, my online class ended Friday and I have about 15 hours before the next wave of books, classes, and madness begins… I’m not really sure what I’m going to use this blog for in the future, but for at least the next few weeks I’m going to be plucking random entries, poems and short stories out of my journals and putting them up on here.

I’m currently in the process of reading through the poems and short stories for BU’s Lit mag, and I’m fairly impressed with everything I’ve read so far; but I’m also kind of bummed that I did not type up any of my work in time to submit it.  I’ve never really liked working with anything other than a pen and paper (at least when it comes to writing), hopefully this exercise will lead to some technological appreciation and a substantial body of typed work that I can submit to, I don’t know someplace that takes that sort of thing.

That Guy you Know

It’s just a short fall and one/ Quick step to the corner of solitude/ He can hear colors sing/ And with applied pressure/ To the whites of his eyes/ The World becomes clear/ Momentarily, but what’s it worth…

He struts through the carrion canals/ Swinging a rope on a noose/ That could snare the noise/ Forever stop the spread/ Of reason and art and maybe/ Electrify to life, his still heart

Each and every day is/ Coffee, cigarettes and sex/ Or the continuous thought/ Of their absence/ He says “Jesus/ Doesn’t make life/ Any more plausible or fun./ And I live life unbound/ From hope in favor of truth”

Comments are always appreciated

Closing the Rhetoric Class, but not the Discussion

Tonight marks the end of a long and thorough class aimed at developing an understanding of rhetorical processes.  The class, Rhetoric of Professional Writing, marked the first time that Bloomsburg University offered courses over the winter break.  Also, it was the first time I have participated in an online class.  Throughout the length of the winter session I learned a great deal about the online community, rhetoric, and the actions expected of a modern, responsible student.

Admittedly, I did not begin the session under the best circumstances.  Because of a foul-up on my end, I missed two class days and quickly discovered that it would be very difficult to catch up over the remainder of the three week course.  Although this portion of my experience was less than pleasant, it provided me with an excellent opportunity to learn what is expected of a university student.  Thankfully, I was able to catch up to the rest of my class and finish the session with all assignments successfully created.

After spending the last few days, as well as the hours leading up to this particular blog, reviewing what was discussed in class; I have decided to use this blog to asses the things that I found helpful and harmful to the winter session and online rhetoric course.  First, I think the winter session is particularly effective at creating a more flexible university schedule.  Although my own experience lead me to decide that the winter session was not for me, I think that other people will be able to use the session to complete courses they could not otherwise.  Also, I think that the session will become even more effective after it has had a few years to “work out the kinks.”  For the first attempt at providing holiday courses, I do feel that both Bloomsburg and Dr. Martin provided a successful session.

As for the online aspect of the class, I believe it will also come to fill a growing need for flexible learning environments.  Because this was the first semester that the course was offered, there were a few technological problems.  However, this semester and each successive semester will provide the university and instructors with the chance to further refine the course content and online applications.  I think the most effective aspect of the online course, was learning to use new software.  As the world becomes increasingly digitized, this will not only be an employment requirement, but also a necessity for effective social communication.  I am not the most effective person at using online applications but, as I mentioned previously, this class has inspired me to continue using blogging software to further develop my writing.

Finally, I think the class was very effective at demonstrating what rhetoric is, how it functions in society, and the central role it plays in the online community.  Each person uses different rhetorical strategies in their personal and professional lives.  This is especially true for the online community, where there is the opportunity to enact more complex strategies and arguments.  For example, each person engages in rhetorical practices when they create and maintain a social media website.  They use different methods to portray themselves in certain ways with regards to ethical, emotional, social, and intellectual matters.

After participating in this class and this blog, I feel that I have became I more developed member of the online community.  Although I know I will not be returning for another online course or winter session at Bloomsburg University, I also know that my time was used effectively.  It is my hope that the entire collection of rhetoric blogs demonstrate this, and that all future posts will continue to portray my personal development.

The Syrian Situation

The ongoing situation in Syria, has attracted attention from around the globe.  Like many Americans, I have been following the news stories for a few months now.  I am grateful that another foreign war no longer seems imminent, because I do not wish to see my friends and family members sent overseas.  However, I do find the situation to be very upsetting and I wish there was more that both America and myself could do to bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

While reading through the New York Times today, I found yet another article describing the current situation in Syria.  The article, which can be seen here, describes the ongoing struggles between the rebels and the Syrian government.  The Syrian rebels claim, according to the article, that the government is using cease-fires as a tactic to achieve victory.  Essentially, the government is calling a surrender, a “cease-fire,” and using their power over food supplies to achieve a victory that might not be possible with continued fighting.  One of the goverment’s conditions for the “cease-fire” is that the state-run news media will film rebel towns with the government flags being openly displayed.

The tactics the Syrian government are employing demonstrate effective strategies that not only illustrate some of the things discussed in my Rhetoric of Professional Writing course, but also invite rhetorical discussions about the whole situation in the middle-east.  For instance, is it acceptable for the Assad government to remain in power, despite their past use of chemical weapons on civilians?  Do the rebel fighters fight for the best interests of all Syria, or for merely themselves?  Perhaps most importantly, how involved should the United Nations be in the Syrian conflict?

In response to the first question, I do not believe that any person should remain in a position of power after they have attacked civilians.  Although I would like to see the situation in Syria resolved without violence and American soldiers, I think history has demonstrated that men like President Bashar al-Assad will continue to abuse their authority.  On the other hand, history has also shown that groups that rise to power through violence, often become corrupt once they are in a position of power.  For this reason, I am reluctant to see the outcome of either Assad or the Syrian rebels as the conflicts victor.  As for the final question, I think it is the responsibility for all well-established, successful nations to participate in the global community and encourage peaceful solutions to all problems.  Additionally, I feel that America has thoroughly established a tradition of being a global peace-keeper and no matter how involved the U.N. remains, America has some responsibility to stay involved for the duration of the crisis.

The upcoming peace talks in Switzerland will hopefully provide a final solution to the Syrian crisis.  In the meantime, both the rebels and the Syrian government continue to be the focus of many public discussions.  Rhetorical devices play an important part, becasuse they are used not only by the members of the conflicting groups, but also by citizens around the globe as they discuss the situation.  Today marks the last day of my online course, however as I continue my time at Bloomsburg University, and eventually pursue a career, I am continually reminded of the central role that rhetorical discussions play in the modern world.

The Magic of the Movies

It’s that time of year again… cinema awards season is in full swing.  The Critics Choice Awards have just concluded and the Oscars are right around the corner.  Like many people, I am very passionate about film.  From seeing my first movie at the theaters when I was three (it was Jurassic Park, by the way), to watching Sharknado just last week; I have always been memorized by motion pictures.  Although I enjoy a wide variety of genres, my favorite films are the ones that invite the audience to think and feel in new ways.

While looking at the nominees for this year’s Oscar awards, I started to think about the ways cinema engages the audience in a rhetorical conversation.  Every movie attempts to stimulate an emotional response in it’s viewers.  The best movies however, use language and imagery to enhance a focused discussion on important social issues or philosophical ideas.  One of my favorite movies, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, uses science fiction and creative camera work in an effort to answer the age-old question “is it better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all?”

In the movie, the central character undergoes a procedure to have the memories of his ex-girlfriend removed from his mind.  He is partially inspired to have the procedure done after he learns that his ex had the memories of their relationship removed.  Halfway through the procedure he realizes that, although the memories are painful, they are still an important part of his life.  By remembering his past, he is able to learn from the failed relationship and grow as a person.  At the movies climax, the main character is reunited with his ex, both of whom do not remember one another, and they start dating again.

The director and actors use a variety of techniques to encourage the audience to engage the movie on a deeper level than merely a cinematic experience.  One way they do this is by not ending the movie on a definitive note.  Because the movie does not directly show what happens to the couple once they are reunited, the audience is free to use their imagination and ponder the outcome of the characters.  The movie never provides provides any definitive statements about love.  Although some of the characters deliver powerful monologues about romance, other characters contradict them with their own insights.  The end result is a movie that works very much like a rhetorical argument.  The audience is presented with two sides of an idea, each supported by a variety of emotionally charged scenes and dialogue.  The discussion formed by the movie provides viewers with the emotional, ethical, and logical parts of rhetoric, while also maintaining a certain level of ambiguity to allow the conversation to remain open after multiple viewings.

Not every movie provides the audience with thought provoking discussions about moral or philosophical issues.  As I mentioned in the beginning of this blog, I recently viewed a movie called Sharknado.  The movie was hilariously awful, but it did not provide any intellectual stimulation.  It is doubtful that I will ever watch the movie again, because one viewing provided all the information the movie had to offer; which was admittedly very little, and all of it was purely for entertainment purposes.  The key to any successful movie and rhetorical discussion, is carefully structured ideas that are explored from multiple angles.  This allows for the audience to return time and time again to the content, and leave with the type of satisfaction typical of intelligent discussion.

How to get a Puppy

Throughout the duration of the online rhetoric course we have looked at the basic elements that comprise rhetoric, we have looked at examples of rhetoric in WWII and the modern day online community, and we have been looking at ways rhetoric is used in the academic environment.  All of the aforementioned discussions have been very helpful with developing a more thorough understanding of the rhetorical process, but as the class is coming a close, I have been looking for ways to use my newly acquired understanding of rhetoric.  In doing so, it has occurred to me that I have used the rhetorical method of persuasion numerous times in my life.

Persuading parents or other roommates to get a puppy is one of the first rhetorical acts many people engage in.  Without fully realizing it, young kids enact detailed strategies to convince their parents of the rewards of pet-ownership.  The very determined kid may use graphs, statistics, and the highly effective “pretty-please” to when their opposition over.  No matter how they go about it, each kid is participating in the long-standing tradition of rhetorical debate with their audience.

When I was around 5 years old and living in Atlanta, I employed the standard, child-like persuasive methods to convince my mom to get a puppy for my sister and me.  I focused on the irresistible adorableness of puppies, as I knew this would create a strong emotional response in my mom.  Secondly, I aimed to convince her that it would be the ethical thing to do; because her friend’s dog had just given birth to a half-dozen puppies that were going to need a new home.  Next, I also explained that the puppy would keep me company in our new neighborhood, while at the same time teaching me responsibility.  As one final emotional tactic, I told my mom we could name the puppy Muffin, after the dog she had as a little girl.

A few weeks later, we brought a little puppy home with us.  Over the next 12 years Muffin was a member of our family and even made the move from Atlanta, GA to Milton, PA with us.  Unfortunately, Muffin passed away a few weeks before I graduated from high school.  Everyone in the family was very sad, especially my younger sister.  After a few more weeks, I found her and my step-sister employing the same tactics I did as a young child, to convince my parents that we should get a new dog to fill the void in our home.  They were also successful, and shortly thereafter a small, white, fluff-ball of a dog named Gunner was running through our home.

In later years, I found myself using rhetorical persuasion once again, to convince my grandmother that we should get a dog to keep her company in her retirement while I was away at school and work.  It took a little convincing to get my grandmother to see the benefits of having a dog.  I made sure to tell her that having a dog would make her feel more secure while she was home alone at nights, and I also used statistics to show her that elderly people that take care of an animal are far less likely to suffer from depression, as well as a number of other mental illnesses.

Shortly before Christmas of 2012, my grandmother and I went to small farm to pick up the little puppy named Max, although our original plan was to get a retired Greyhound race dog.  I knew that my grandmother would change her mind about training a puppy as soon as she held the miniature-elephant looking dog in her arms.  Once again, rhetorical persuasion had successfully created a major change in both my grandmother’s and my life.  When Max grew to be over 80 lbs in the first six months, we realized we had gotten a little more than we bargained for, still, it has been an interesting and rewarding experience from day one.

The Art of Asking for Money

I may have mentioned before, that I am really into cycling.  It has been a hobby of mine for a number of years and it is something I plan to do well into my old age.  This past summer, I decided to take my hobby and use it for charity.  One of the great things about cycling, is that there is a large amount of charitable events throughout the year, with each one benefiting a different cause.

I decided to support the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, because they have one of the nation’s largest cycling-oriented charities, and one of my cousins had participated for a number of years.  Once I decided which charity I wanted to support I had to find an event that was nearby and did not conflict with my schedule.  After doing this, the only thing that was left to do was raise the funds for the charity.  I knew that I was going to be approaching my family and friends for money, but I also knew that I would need to talk to some people I was not too familiar with, if I wanted to raise as much money as possible.

I devised the flyer here, BIKE MS, in order to make a broad appeal to my target audience.  I used rhetorical methods of persuasion to increase the likelihood of receiving donations.  First, I tried to make sure my flyer was polite and non-intrusion, because asking for money; even if it is for charity, can be a tension-provoking experience.  Next, I decided to make a credibility appeal, and demonstrate that I would be an effective participant in the event.  Following this, I decided to explain the various ways that supporting Bike MS would help the donor.  I focused on both emotional and factual appeals, while trying to remain as polite as possible.

By the end of the flyer, I had established my purpose for addressing the target audience, my personal credibility and the credibility of the organization I was representing, and I had also provided logical and ethical reasons for my audience to support me in my charitable endeavor.  I sent over 15 flyers out by mail, with each one containing handwritten comments to further demonstrate to my audience that I was completely invested in my task.  Additionally, I sent out over 20 flyers by email, and used my Facebook to promote the event and provide a visual representation of the progress I made.  My hope was to raise $500 for the weekend long, 150 mile ride through the rolling hills of PA’s Happy Valley.  Unfortunately, I only manage to raise $420 for the event.  I was still incredibly happy with the results, mostly because I had raised a large amount of money for a good cause, using nothing more than a persuasive flyer and a bicycle.

The entire process of making the flyer, collecting the money, and then participating in the event was an excellent learning experience and a lot of fun.  This year, I plan to make an even better flyer, using all of the skills I’ve learned in this class and from the event last year.  I plan to try and raise even more this summer (hopefully $700), but either way I know I will have a fun time, doing something that is productive and beneficial for everyone.

Meat is murder!

I take pride in being a fairly adaptable, strong-willed person.  When I decided to become a vegetarian over six months ago, I had no doubts that I would be able to stick to my criteria and complete my self-assigned challenge (vegetarian diet for two years).  Another thing that I take pride in, is being relatively private and open-minded… the vast majority of my friends and family did not know about my new commitment until very recently.  Now that they do know, I’ve been hit with a bevy of jokes from my male friends and family, and a plethora of questions from all of my acquaintances.  So, in order to provide some explanation and defense of my “tree-hugging,” I regularly engage in rhetorical arguments; without the intention of persuading other people to adopt my opinions.

The question that I am most frequently asked (usually accompanied by a startled expression and tone) is “why?”  My first response is always: “because meat is murder,” and after casually breaking the tension I go on to lead my inquisitor, or curious friend, in a Socratic dialect-inspired series of questions.

“Well, you do understand that the planet is currently approaching the maximum capacity for population and food-production, right?”  “And, of course you are well aware that it is more efficient to plant the crops, grow them and eat them; instead of feeding them to another animal and waiting until it is appropriate to eat the previously mentioned animal?”  From there I may go on to discuss how many Americans do not receive the proper amount of vitamins and nutrients from the current meat-focused diets of the west; or I may discuss how rain forests are being destroyed in order to create more space for factory farms.  The latter of which creates large amounts of methane and industrial waste, which create even more environmental destruction; in addition to subjecting sentient beings to highly questionable conditions and treatment.  Ultimately, I will end by discussing the large amount of unnatural hormones and chemicals that are injected into livestock and how this effects the development of the human species.

However, at the end of the back-and-forth discussion; although many of the people I talk with agree with me on most of the points; no one ever adopts the same, semi-radical diet that I have.  We exchange more banter, and I jokingly say something like “you’re killing the planet,” but at the end of it all, I realize that effective use of rhetorical strategy (ethos, logos and pathos included in equal parts) is only really useful for getting people to understand differing viewpoints and ideologies; not change their entire lifestyle.  Because I understand this, I never make the debate out to be anything more than friendly discussion.

What I have learned; just as Socrates and Plato claimed in their day, is that people are contradictory, myself included.  Rhetoric is an effective tool for creating a harmonious world, but it is just the first of many, many steps required to change the world.  If, I’m really being honest with myself (and I like to think I am most of the time), the real reason that I became a vegetarian, is that I was sick of picking meat particles out of my metal orthodontic braces…sometimes it really is as simple as that.

The Persuasive Methods of the Media

As I mentioned in the previous post, I read through the New York Times on a daily basis.  I also try to keep informed on the world’s current affairs by checking news media sites, and reading through a few magazines from time to time.  I learn about general pop culture in Rolling Stone, the latest cycling news in Bicycle,  and new products from CNET.com.  After glancing through each of them today, in order to find a topic for this blog, I realized that all types of media engage in some form of persuasive rhetoric.

The sites and publications that are primarily interested in dispensing current events use credibility appeals to persuade people to acquire new information from them.  “Fair and Balanced” or “News you can trust” are popular slogans news networks use to convey the sense that they are politically unbiased.  Additionally, ads for the printed news sources say things like “word class journalism” or “with more prize winning writer’s than any other publication”, in an attempt to gain wider circulation.  All of these examples are using the same types of rhetorical strategies to entice readers.  Of course, the obvious question is “which one is really the most accurate?”  I’ve found over the years, that each news source often has the same “facts” to offer their readers, with the differences between each source being largely attributable to presentation and style.  If you can read between the lines, the news source that will most likely appeal to you, is the one that resonates most with your literary or media preferences.

As for the websites and publications that are not interested in selling the news, their appeals largely target the emotional core of their audience.  For instance, fitness magazines often advertise new workout tips that you need in order to achieve a healthier body.  Each issue claims to offer better, faster results and an overall happier you at the end of whatever program they are promoting this month.  But how can their be so many different types of exercises, and which ones are really the best?  The short answer is that the workout tips and exercises are largely the same from month to month.  The authors or instructors simply switch some of the names, make a few negligible tweaks, and present a new program packaged in words designed to make you feel fresh; regardless of whether or not you actually attempt to follow the advice.  The same could easily be said of almost every type of non-current events media.

In fact, a careful eye at the grocery store will spot the same techniques being used to sell food.  Every so often, orange juice (or other beverages) companies change their packaging, font and text color, and slap a phrase like “new improved formula” on the bottle…and it usually works to improve sales, for at least a small amount of time.

Every type of organization that is attempting to acquire profit, engages in some form of rhetorical persuasion.  They first provide their target demographic with a need; sometimes a need they did not even realize they had, and then engage in varied persuasive techniques to show the audience that they can satisfy that need.  By paying attention to the types of strategies that are being used, you can protect yourself from the powerful effects of fancy language and avoid paying $2 more for the new improved Oreo…it’s still the same cookie as ever.

Because Linguistics

Everyday, shortly after I wake up, I grab a cup of hot coffee and I sit down to read the New York Times, check the T-shirt of the day on www.riptapparel.com, and finally I check Dictionary.com to see the word of the day and browse through the site’s other content.  Today, I happened across an interesting blog post discussing the new ways the word because is being used.  I thought it would also make an interesting subject to discuss in my own blog, because: rhetoric.

If you are a careful reader, you may have noticed that I chose to forego the traditional use of the prepositional modifier of following because.  As the blog post here discusses, people are using the word because in a new (within the past 5 years), terse style that not only changes the way sentences sound, but also the way they are structured.  As the blog’s author notes, because x (the designation used within the blog) is being used similar to the way prepositions are used and also as a connective that can link loosely associated ideas.  For instance, a person might say: “I’m super excited for the spring semester, because graduation!”

The new ways because is being used may not seem particularly groundbreaking, and although it may not catch as much attention as other new words such as twerk and selfie; it represents a marked reformation of a common word.  Because has a long standing history and specific method of use, so how is it that new qualities have been accepted by nearly everyone, from mainstream media to literary organizations?  Because internet.

The 20th century linguist Ferdinand de Saussure notably demonstrated that language cannot be changed by a singular person.  Instead, he theorized that language is like a living organism and evolves over time, gaining its shape and meaning through a series of negations, i.e. it works similar to binary code in computers.  Although this is a gross oversimplification of his ideas, I believe it sheds some light on why words change so rapidly in modern society.

The internet has rapidly accelerated communication and also created a wealth of new information that requires new words and language in order to be adequately discussed.  Additionally, the widespread use of text as a primary method of communication is developing a more malleable type of language, in order to enable more rapid and effective exchanges.  Just think of the large number of words that have entered the lexicon since the Internet’s inception.  Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other websites allow words like epic, winning, fail, and like to obtain new meanings and uses almost overnight.

As we continue through the final week of the online session, it’s becoming easier to see the many ways rhetoric connects to technology and life generally.  This specific blog post relates to an online class about rhetoric in several ways.  First, as the sound and shape of language changes, so to does rhetorical argument.  In order to effectively use emotional and credibility appeals, a rhetorician must adapt to new uses of language.  Secondly, this class is being conducted online and utilizes many online applications, so an understanding of how to use language effectively in the online community is directly relevant.  Finally, because is a word with particular qualities that make it a valuable tool for any rhetorical argument.  New methods of using the connective word, mean new ways to logically shape an argument and link ideas.

As one of my favorite words to use in papers and everyday speech, I’m pretty excited about the new ways I can use because.  Rhetorically speaking, why? Because because!