Multimodal Writing: A Technology Literacy Narrative

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What is multimodal writing?

Multimodal writing is writing that involves many different modes, whether that means text, visuals, video, audio, etc. Selfe says that “multimodal” itself means “exceeding the alphabetic and may include images, animations, color, words, music, and sound” (Selfe, 2007) (See references below). So multimodal writing is writing composition that might include images, animations, color, words, music, and sound, not just text.

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What types of multimodal writing do we learn in school?

In school we’ve learned through various modes, however, we don’t necessarily learn to utilize them ourselves. An example that comes to mind would be when I took Shakespeare in high school. We read Shakespeare texts and plays, acted out the scripts, as well as watched the movies based on the plays to help us better visualize what was going on in the scene and help us create meaning from the text through transduction. Transduction is converting something into another form.

Another example would be in my Intro to the Essay class with Katie Marks. Katie taught us various forms of writing, including writing a book using the mode of tweeting (click for link). The book is written from a timeline– as in, each tweet is read in order of publication, rather than in the order that it is on the Twitter profile. Although we didn’t necessarily get to practice it ourselves, we were aware that tweeting our writing was an option for us to try.

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The English Language Arts exam uses various modalities to test students in grades 3-8.

There was even an effort to help students learn through different modes by testing us on our listening skills. The state English exam that we have to take in New York State from grades 3-8 involved a listening portion, where you would have to listen to someone read aloud a text and answer questions about the text. This helped us develop our aural learning skills, however minimally.

It’s interesting that teaching and learning in multiple modalities stops after 8th grade. Perhaps it is because after 8th grade, it is assumed that we as students have learned all of the basic fundamentals of utilizing and engaging with various modes as our brains are still in early development. However, this is not the case, and we should continue to use and engage in various modes within the classroom after 8th grade, such as continuing to test our listening skills as well as our image/video-text analysis skills.

How is multimodal learning beneficial?

I think that multimodal learning is extremely beneficial, especially to the modern-day student. Palmeri tells us that there are “crucial interconnections between compositing with words and composing with images,” or other modes, emphasizing how using various modes to teach and write helps us close the gap of understanding for students.

Although Bezemer and Kress identify some issues with recontextualizing in various modes such as a “loss of specificity,” there is a “gain in generality,” as in, people can make assumptions, generalizations, and various interpretations from the use of various modes where with just text there may only be one way of understanding something. This makes us look at composition differently, including the differences and similarities between a text and a related image or picture or sound, and help us develop our critical analysis, interpretation, and thinking skills. I believe using various modes to be beneficial because it widens the gap of understanding by helping us engage, see, and learn with various materials/modes in different ways, and developing our critical analysis and thinking skills.


Should multimodal writing be integrated into the writing major? 

Yancey says that “the screen is the language of the vernacular, that if we do not include it in the school curriculum, we will become as irrelevant as faculty professing in Latin… The ability to negotiate through life by combining words with pictures and audio and video to express thoughts will be the mark of the educated student” (305). It should be integrated into the writing major because otherwise writing may become irrelevant, and the skills of the writing major will fade into the background, according to Yancey.

Like I said before, I think it should be integrated before college even, in primary school, middle school, high school, etc. It should be an option on all if any tests, essays, projects, etc. We should be learning technology and graphic design a lot earlier on. And it is integrated before college, like during the national English Language Arts exam, but not to the extent that text learning/composition is, and since it’s not extended past 8th grade, our skills aren’t as developed as they could be.

Not only does learning various forms help us think critically, but it also helps other learners learn better and more productively, make our content more engaging, as well as keep up with the ever changing ways of composition. A rudimentary example of this is Sesame Street (click for link). Children learning the alphabet see the alphabet text as well as images up on the screen that are representative of the letters, as well as listening to it being said aloud. They can understand the information in more than one way.

Some ways that we could do this in the writing program here at Ithaca College is by adding as an option various forms/mediums in which to produce work other than just writing, or even incorporate various forms like image and video into our text. Although text will always be predominant in the writing major, it would be good to at least have the option of using other mediums to communicate what we’re trying to say.


How does the Writing department define writing? How do our sources in class define writing? How do you define writing?

Within academic settings, and especially within the Writing department, composition and writing primarily has to do with text. This is because text has become the predominant way of learning in the past rather than visuals. Writing is a way of communicating that primarily involves textual composition.

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Bezemer and Kress generally define writing and text as what is originally composition, and then go on to explain that writing/composition can incorporate a lot of different elements such as auditory, visual, and aural. Writing is multimodal in their eyes, whereas in our trained brains writing is primarily composed from one mode. Writing is a way of communicating that can involve various modes and mediums.

Bezemer and Kress, Yancey, Selfe and Palmeri have definitely opened my mind to the possibilities that exist out there for composition. In my mind, writing is composing and synthesizing different modes to communicate and make a point.


What changes would you recommend and why? What would you anticipate to be the gains and losses of changing our major?

Palmeri says that integrating multimodal composition teaching into the classroom helps students “expand the perspectives from which they visually see the world… finding a productive space of creative tension… develop a capacious understanding of rhetoric… and advocate social change” (116-149). I would first recommend integrating various learning and teaching techniques into the classroom way early on, perhaps even before 3rd grade, and then continuing to do so beyond 8th grade.

Specific techniques that I would recommend to use early on would be encouraging students to incorporate images into text composition and academic essays, teaching video and recording skills in multimedia classes, but in English classes, where the production of composition is especially prominent and various modes can be utilized.

In Writing classes in college, the option to include various modes and the skills learned in primary, middle, and high school to use various modes should be encouraged in every type of composition and class.

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If we incorporate multimodal composition into our classrooms now, the only loss I can think of would be loss of time explaining what to do and how to do it. There would be a lot of communication gaps that would have people confused, because we haven’t been learning with various modes throughout all of our educational experiences. Also, Bezemer and Kress say that “the increasing use of images [and other modes] will inevitably lead to the ‘dumbing down’ not just of textbooks but of all of culture” (167). Also, multimodal composition requires certain technology like computers, smart boards, etc., that not everyone has access to. Everyone learns at their own pace, and this may hold people back, especially since we’ve been trained in text composition learning our whole lives and not other styles of learning.

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Author’s Note:

This blog post is a project for my senior seminar, Multimodal Literacy. I chose to answer the 3rd prompt we received in the form of a blog post, which I posted here, on Amanda Under Construction. The blog post is in a conventional blog post format. It includes headers, text, photos with captions, a photo slide show, and various hyperlinks. It is accessible through the category “Things I’ve Learned In College,” as it relates primarily to what I’ve learned in college and is a project for my writing senior seminar that I have almost completed.

I chose a blog format because not only was it a site of display I was familiar with because I consistently post on this website, but because I felt comfortable incorporating other modes into the blog post like image and other hypermedia, like the link to the book written in tweets and the link to a Sesame Street video. Making a blog post also allowed me to answer the questions in the mode of text and writing, which is the mode I have used the most in my educational experience and find to be the easiest when answering questions that require specific answers and examples.

This may be considered hypocritical to the points that I make in my project, for example when I say that other modes should be utilized when composing. However, like I said before, I did incorporate other modes such as image, image slideshow, and hyperlinks to videos.  These other modes helped me to answer and represent the questions presented.

The pictures that I chose to include in my project were representative of my answers to the questions. For example, the first image that I included in my project was an image of a sunset that says “Multimodal… Text. Image. Video. Audio.” This image comes right after the title of my blog post, which is “Multimodal Writing: A Technology Literacy Narrative.” This may be considered repetitive, however, I made this modal choice to reinforce and draw attention to my subject matter and help my audience better engage with what I was talking about. People are more likely to engage with image rather than text, especially on websites and blogs, so I thought this would help bridge the gap between the two.

The slideshow I chose to include in my project represented the different and varying modes that exist for students to compose with. The slideshow does switch pictures on its own, which may draw attention away from the actual text answers. Each slideshow is a symbolic picture of a different mode, with a text caption that explains what each mode is. While this may also be considered repetitive, I made this choice to show that it is possible to use different modes other than text to explain what each mode is.

I included hyperlinks to the book written in tweets to display various modes that people can compose with, as well as a Sesame Street video to display how young children use various modes to engage in learning about topics like the alphabet. I wrote in parenthesis “Click for link” after to clarify what I wanted readers to do. I thought that these would be good examples of using various modes to learn and compose, which is why I included them in my project.

The last picture I included is a cartoon that displays point of view. I thought that this illustrated the Palmeri quote at the beginning of that section pretty well while also incorporating humor that would engage my audience, especially when he talks about expanding perspectives.

Each question is written in bold at the top, and each answer is written in plain text. I made this choice to distinguish and separate the question from the topic presented. This is another conventional blog format technique.

I believe that my technology literacy narrative not only answers the questions, but helps readers engage in various modes in order to better understand the answers to my questions.


Sources: 

Bezemer, J., & Kress, G. (2008). Writing in multimodal texts a social semiotic account of designs for learning. Written communication. 25(2), 166-195.

Palmeri, Jason. (2012). Remixing Composition: A History of Multimodal Writing Pedagogy. Southern Illinois University Press. 116-148.

Selfe, Cynthia L. “The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning, Aurality and Multimodal Composing.” College Composition and Communication, June 2009, pp. 616-663.

Yancey, K.B. (2004) Made not only in words: Composition is a new key. College Composition and Communication, 56(2), 297-328.

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Obvious Child, 12:17 am

**OBVIOUS CHILD SPOILER ALERT**

It is 12:17 am on a Monday night (I guess a Tuesday morning?) and there are a lot of things I could be doing.

I could be sleeping, for one. I probably should be sleeping, to be honest, considering the amount of sleep I’ve gotten in the past week, which is not all that much. (Contrary to popular belief, anxiety is not fun! At all!)

I could be responding to e-mails or writing the draft of this multimodal literacy narrative due tomorrow that I haven’t blinked an eye at (sorry @ my professor, if you’re reading this. It’s been a rough couple of days) (also sorry @ dad who I know is definitely reading this, I’m keeping up in school, I swear, I’m just tired right now)

I could be reassessing my life choices, or just assessing them in general. I could be wallowing in a pool of guilt right now, or even self pity, but am choosing to put that aside for a moment and think about other things.

I could be reading Invisible Man or American Gods or Ragged Dick or Plato’s Republic or Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, all of which I’ve been assigned to read this week and have made little progress on. But it’s only Monday, right? I have time.

Instead, I’m in bed, relaxing in the afterglow of that disastrous and almost embarrassing presidential debate, my stomach full of penne capri and hard cider, just having finished watching the movie Obvious Child for the second time (the first time was with one of my best friends Catherine on her 22nd birthday). And it might be the hard cider talking, but Obvious Child is one of my favorite movies of all time as of right this very second (move over, Princess Bride).

For those of you who don’t know, Obvious Child stars Jenny Slate, a young Jewish woman in her 20’s who lives in Brooklyn and experiences a difficult break up, the loss of her job, a one night stand, and (**SPOILER ALERT**) an unplanned pregnancy. Yeah, Jenny Slate has a one night stand in this movie with Jake Lacy of The Office fame, who is unforgettably adorable. (He has great dimples, look him up.) Basically, he and his perfect dimples get her pregnant.  And she decides to get an abortion. And her life falls apart more than it was already falling apart before, but it also falls back together by the end of the movie in a way that made me feel whole.

Now that I’ve given you a vague summary (*YOU’RE WELCOME*), let’s talk about what makes this movie one of my favorites.

This movie was amazing for a lot of reasons. It was a gentle story about a woman who has an abortion. It was a movie about a woman who has choices and who tries to feel fully despite being emotionally stunted. It was a movie about the experience of a real woman, a woman with confidence and insecurities, who has sex, who struggles with taking care of herself, who leans on her friends, who is sad and happy and every emotion in between. And even though she had a happy ending whereas a lot of women might not, it was still real.

Jenny Slate’s “thing” in Obvious Child, aka what she does that makes her so inherently herself, is stand up comedy. I mean, what else would you expect from a comedian/actress extraordinaire? She gets up on stage at this little club in Brooklyn and talks about her life. And because she’s funny and her life is interesting, people listen and they laugh and she gets to talk about how she feels and what’s actually going on, if you know what I mean.

What makes Jenny Slate so great in this movie when she does her stand up comedy is that it’s honest. She tells toilet jokes and sex jokes, but towards the end of the movie she gets up on stage and announces to the audience that, yes, she is pregnant, and YES, SHE IS GETTING AN ABORTION. RIGHT IN FRONT OF MAN CANDY CUTIE PIE STUD MUFFIN JAKE LACY, THE GUY WHO GOT HER PREGNANT, WHO HAS ABSO-FUCKING-LUTELY NO IDEA.

Which is crazy. Can you imagine getting up on stage and announcing something so personal, something that not everyone agrees with, and something that might make people HATE YOU? Can you imagine announcing that to an audience of mostly completely strangers? Can you imagine getting up and announcing that you’re pregnant and you’re planning on terminating the pregnancy for the very first time (I guess that “announce” suggests that it’s for the very first time she’s telling him, so that wording was redundant, sorry) to the guy that impregnated you?

It was incredibly admirable.

This week I read a personal essay by one of my best friends. She wrote about her ex-boyfriend, and how transformative that relationship was for her, and all of the things that she realized after it was over. A lot of it was not nice. But it was extremely well written. She e-mailed me this 22-page essay and I sat and read it on my phone with a plate of mozzarella sticks at Wegmans, and pretty soon I was sitting and reading and crying over a plate of mozzarella sticks at Wegmans. (What else is new?)

What my friend wrote was emotional and real. But most importantly, it was honest. It was raw. And it made me remember myself a little bit and who I was before all this happened, and I think that’s why I cried.

I miss writing. I miss writing so much. I haven’t written anything that I consider to be real and raw and emotional since December/January, when my grandma died. And it’s September, and it’s been so long, and I miss it.

I haven’t written because I’ve been afraid. I didn’t write a college junior year reflection because I was afraid. I was afraid of writing something that people would read and make fun of me for. I was afraid of writing something that people would read and say that it was clichéd for me to write it. I was afraid of other people and what they would think of me. And I don’t want to be afraid anymore.

Amanda Under Construction is my space. I’ve had a lot of space taken away from me this year. I’ve backed away. And part of that meant I had to stop writing. But I want to take my writing back, and I want to take myself back.

This week I wrote an angry poem, and I am no poet. This week I wrote a story about my mother, who I haven’t written about in a long time. This week I cried so hard that I felt hungover the next day (which I didn’t even know was possible). But it’s a start.

Watching Obvious Child and seeing how brave Jenny Slate was reminded me that it’s okay to be myself, and reminded me that my feelings are valid, too. It reminded me what it’s like to be brave, and what it’s like to be me. And it reminded me why I need to write, and why I need to try and write again.

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25 Things I Learned as an Intern at William Clark Associates Literary Agency

The Great Unwashed.

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For those who are just joining us, I’ve wanted to be a children’s book editor since I was 7 years old. (At this point I almost feel like it’s my mantra, my go-to, the thing that I say to help people figure out who I am and what I’m all about. So if you haven’t heard me say it often enough, here it is again.)

I’ve worked at and for and in places that have given me invaluable editorial (and teaching) experience, like Westchester Magazine and Writopia Lab and Random House and The Miss Information and for the TCSD Foundation. I’ve gotten to see first hand what it takes to revise and edit and complete a manuscript or an article, make it into a book or put it online or in a newsletter, and see the tangible finished product that is the writer’s work.

What all of these experiences have given me a limited look into was the world of agenting– the pre-book, pre-published article, pre-finished work world. I had a general sense of what acquisitions were, and what the role of an agent was, but didn’t really have a full understanding of what it all really meant until this summer.

This summer I had the honor of interning at William Clark Associates Literary Agency, a small literary agency in the Flatiron District in New York City. The office I worked in was beautiful. The people were so kind. The area of NYC I worked in was the center of it all. (There was a great Mexican food place and a Starbucks right around the corner, so I was pretty much set.) (Just kidding, I went to other places too, ya know, got dinner and drinks with friends in the city.) (But I did figure out where Union Square was in relation to the office by typing “nearest Forever 21″into Google Maps, so there you go.) (I almost wish I was kidding about that.)

I worked for William Clark himself, who proved himself a kind, adept, and wise mentor. He encouraged me to listen in on his phone calls, ask questions whenever I had any, and to test my boundaries and explore the city. (If the #1 thing about me is that I want to be a children’s book editor, the #2 thing is that I have no sense of direction. I got lost. A lot.) He told me when I did something wrong and was very understanding. I even got to meet his daughter and give her a list of children’s books to read, which I had a lot of fun putting together. (We bonded over Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon.)

At the agency, I not only got to learn about the business of agenting, but I also got to read book proposals and contracts and agreements, which is something I’ve never gotten to do before. I read adult narrative nonfiction and fiction books, some of which were interesting, some of which were not, some of which were good, some of which were not. (A lot of people write about the Holocaust and 9/11, I’ve noticed.) I liked that I got to read work that wasn’t meant for children, because I was able to expand my repertoire and find other genres and categories I might be interested in for my future career path.

I evaluated each proposal thoroughly and to the best of my ability, summarizing my thoughts into a few paragraphs and sending them to William Clark. He trusted my judgement, which made me feel more confident in my own opinions and ideas. He sent me on errands to mail things and deliver packages. I took inventory of his stock of books. I got to go to a summer literary agent intern toolbox session at the CUNY Graduate Center and meet publishing professionals as well as other summer literary agency interns. I was able to copy edit a few manuscripts and proposals and make sure everything looked put together, which was probably my favorite part of the job.

This summer was a really wonderful experience, and one that I don’t think I would be able to find elsewhere, especially with someone who was as encouraging, knowledgeable, and supportive of a mentor as William Clark. Interning at William Clark Associates Literary Agency showed me another side to a world that I can’t wait to be a part of.

Over the course of the summer, I took general notes on what I learned, which can mostly be summarized below. (Also– a .PDF of an abridged version of a speech William Clark gave about the role of a literary agent can be found here. It helped me a lot when I started out this summer.)

Enjoy!


  1. Publishing and agenting are businesses built on relationships.
  2. Agents find writers, get their manuscripts in shape, and then find editors to make an offer.
  3. Agents are problem solvers. They solve problems between authors and publishers.
  4. The agent manages the integrity of the author’s work in relation to the publisher.
  5. Proposals are supposed to talk about what makes a manuscript unique, show whether or not the author knows what he/she is talking about, identify potential readers and competing/comparative works, and have a specific goal/focus. They also have to hit all of these important points in an engaging way, to capture the interest of the agent, and ultimately the editor.
  6. The author brand resides with the author and not the publisher! The agent helps the author expand on his/her brand.
  7. The revision process is what the editor wants to do with the manuscript and how the author chooses to make those changes.
  8. A royalty statement is how publishers account for the number of book sales. A percentage of book sales go to the publisher, author, and agent.
  9. When reading a manuscript or a proposal, it’s important to try and read it with a broader perspective than your own. If you’re reading it with only your interests in mind, you might miss out on something worth looking at. So keep an open mind.
  10. A platform business model is one that “creates value by facilitating exchanges between two or more groups,” i.e. authors/agents and publishers/editors.
  11. The IPR Database is a database meant to sort of replace the agent’s role in the publishing process. IPR stands for Intellectual Property Rights, i.e., copyright of the work that’s going to be published.
  12. A memoir is about a person’s personal experience(s) while an autobiography is more about a person’s life as a whole. (Sometimes the two words are used interchangeably, so everyone calm down.)
  13. As much as the author chooses the agent, the agent chooses the author.
  14. As the world of publishing changes (as it has and is, constantly) it’s important to be aware of how these changes affect the relationship between the author and the agent!
  15. Representations (accuracies on the date a contract is made) and warranties (guarantees that statements will remain in the future) are assurances by the agent/author that certain statements in a contract are true.
  16. Indemnification is when the author has to reimburse the publisher for its losses and expenses if a representation or warranty made by the agent is wrong and the publisher loses money as a result.
  17. Agents have to try and work with/understand the stresses an editor is under from their publishers.
  18. A book scout works for foreign publishers, find what sells in America, and figures out what might sell in other places.
  19. The lifespan of a copyright is the author’s death + 70 years.
  20. Underlying work is the original work of an author (book, a manuscript, etc.) and derivative work is a movie that might come out based on the book, or musical arrangements, or a theatrical adaptation, etc.
  21. Publishers always have their best interest at heart! They don’t always have the author’s best interest. Agents deal with ~outsized expectations~ from both the author and publisher.
  22. It’s easier to get a job as an agent, and there’s also a lot more job mobility than there might be as an editor (*single tear falls down my cheek*).
  23. Economic interest is the author’s right to be paid for their work. Moral interest is the author’s right to the work’s integrity and attribution.
  24. It costs considerably less to mail something at the post office than with UPS. (oops)
  25. If you are genuine and go about your business without the intention of hurting others you will be just fine.

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Likes and Dislikes

Let’s try this again.

Things I Like:

  • Recommending books to people.
  • Granny panties.
  • When people think the things I say are funny.
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches (on rye, with American cheese) from the diner.
  • Firm pillows.
  • Going to the movies with Catherine.
  • Knowing where I’m going.
  • Buying gifts for people that I know they’ll really like.
  • Recognizing actors/actresses I know on TV shows.
  • Rooms with lots of windows.
  • Finding people’s books at book sales/garage sales, smelling the binding, and being able to recognize whether it was glued or sewn together.

Things I Dislike:

  • Humidity.
  • My legs sticking to car seats because of the humidity.
  • How I care too much about what other people think.
  • My phone being below 50% battery.
  • Being put in the middle of situations I have no control over.
  • Feeling small, feeling like I don’t matter, feeling like what I have to say doesn’t matter, feeling oppressed in general.
  • Going to sleep without socks on.
  • Getting lost.
  • Days where it’s impossible to get out of bed or even open my computer or change out of my pajamas or brush my teeth or move.
  • Train delays.
  • Not being able to check things in my planner off.
  • Social media, a lot of the time.

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Scary things that are scary:

My little sister Carly is graduating high school next week.IMG_9542

I’ve been talking about it with a lot of people. As in, every time I have a conversation with a person it is one of those designated conversation topics that I bring up. People always know to ask about her, too, because they see me post about her so often on Instagram and Facebook, and in person I’ll talk about her every 10 seconds. So even if they’ve never met her, they know to ask.

My little sister Carly is graduating high school next week. But she’s not, really, because she’s 9 and she doesn’t have to worry about it for a couple more years. (This is me in denial.) So she’s not really graduating, is she? We’re going to sit in the basement at my mom’s house and have an Amanda School lesson. We’re gonna draw with chalk in the driveway and go scootering (?) on Beekman. I’m going hang out in the main office at PVC with her and a bunch of her friends and a bunch of my friends and not concentrate on Newsapalooza for an hour next Wednesday. I’m gonna call her a brat and accuse her of stealing my clothes (not the other way around). We’re gonna watch High School Musical and relish in Zac Efron’s adolescent beauty together. I’m going to be the loudest person in the audience at her school plays. We’re going to go on a road trip to New Hampshire with my dad for a couple of days and listen to Harry Potter on audiobook in the car and maybe she won’t throw up. And it’ll be fine.

My little sister Carly is graduating high school next week. And going to senior prom tomorrow. And she’s going to look like a princess– I’ve already seen pictures of her in her dress, and she looks like an actual princess, I’m not exaggerating. Her dress is long and flowy and makes her look very grown up. Carly is one of the most beautiful people I know. As much as I hate to admit it, she is not 9-years-old– she is a mature 18-year-old going to her senior prom. And that is scary, but also it makes me proud.

My little sister Carly is graduating high school next week. I’ve written about it before, but after I moved out of my mom’s house and left for college, we became a lot closer. I guess that’s what happens when you have to spend a lot of time apart from your sister– you learn to appreciate the time that you do get together. Carly became one of my best friends when I left for school. We text all the time, and videochat. We talk about boys and bodies (not dead ones, our own. Sorry, I’ve been watching too much How to Get Away with Murder) and whether or not my Instagram picture fits my theme and friends and college, especially when she started to have to worry about the SATs and where to apply to last year. And I’m graduating next year (yikes), so next summer is sort of up in the air for where I’ll be. Carly was a reason for me to come home every break, and now what will I do if she’s not here?

My little sister Carly is graduating high school next week. It makes me think about how different my life was when I graduated– not just in terms of high school vs. now, but from my sister’s. Carly is different than I was in high school. She is good at being responsible and is a very social person– she has older child syndrome without being the older child. (I never understood that.) When she can’t do something she has the gall to try, rather than shut down. She takes things in stride and is very rational. She knows what she values and who she is and her worth, and stands by that. I admire her so much for who she’s grown into, and I love her (if you can’t tell).

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Before this gets too sappy, which, after re-reading, just kidding it’s too late it’s already sappy…

My little sister Carly is graduating high school next week, and I couldn’t be prouder.

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15 Things I Learned as a Teaching/Editorial Intern in the Trumansburg School District

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When I was in middle/high school, I ran my own newsletter called Newsapalooza (click for link). It was for middle school students and I had a staff made up of some of my friends and my sister (who is 3 years younger) and some of her friends. I ran it from 7th-10th grade as the owner, editor and publisher, and tried to come out with a new issue every month. I remember that for the first couple of months I couldn’t think of a name so I just called it Newsletter, which didn’t really have much of a ring to it.

My student staffers wrote book reviews and short stories and fun fact lists and recipes and fake advice columns. We even came up with a sort of secret handshake, and at the end of every year I came out with a Newsapalooza yearbook that included pictures from our meetings and writer biographies. I formatted everything on Microsoft Publisher. Every month for the first two years, I made my dad go to Staples and print out 100 copies of Newsapalooza that I distributed in school. For the last year, I published them online.

To this day, as a junior in college, I am still so proud of Newsapalooza. Getting to work alongside my friends and my sister’s friends, who I was able to bond with over this little newsletter and do stuff that I really liked to do like writing, editing, teaching, and publishing on my own terms, was the greatest. I miss it all the time.

Last year, Barbara (or as Sam Brodsky & I lovingly refer to her, Barb) Adams of the IC Writing Department sent out an e-mail asking students to apply to be an intern in the Trumansburg School District (about 30 minutes outside of Ithaca). The job of the intern would be to organize and teach students in the district feature writing/journalism, as well as put together a community newsletter in Trumansburg called The Trumansburg Troubadour (click for link). Very excited about the prospect of this internship, which I thought sounded very similar to what I’d done with Newsapalooza with a more new-sy and public relation-y focus, I e-mailed back right away, interviewed, and got the job.

Since August 2015, I’ve been interning in the Trumansburg School District as a teaching/editorial intern for the Trumansburg Central School District Foundation. I teach a student staff of about 6-8 students every week, as well as guide students who can’t come to the meetings online in how best to write and revise their articles. The youngest student I teach is 9, and the oldest is 16. They write about a variety of topics, like the Chris Bond Run, the Hangar Theater Project, Localvore Club, the new food services director, Robotics Club, and advice that high school seniors would give to high school freshman, and a lot of other topics.

During our weekly meetings, we focus on brainstorming, what the necessary components of an article are, the who what when where why and how of a story, how to interpret edits and revisions, how to use Google Drive, the types of questions to ask during interviews, how to ask questions in general, and even the differences between AP Style and MLA style. We came out with the 5th issue of the Troubadour in January under my guidance, the leadership of Molly Buck who is my sponsor on the TCSD Foundation Board, and help of Hanna Hertzler, an 11th grader at the high school, who is head illustrator and student editor-in-chief.

I am lucky that I was able to continue developing my passion for publishing and gaining experience in editing in the real world by interning with the Troubadour these past few semesters. The students I taught really care about writing and learning, as well as the community of Trumansburg. Teaching students who actually want to be taught and who want to actively participate was incredibly rewarding. We came out with a great issue this past winter, which you can check out if you click on the above link (it’s issue V).

While we are still in the process of finishing up our most recent issue, I thought I would share some of what I’ve learned the past few semesters. Enjoy!


  1. Getting people to participate and outreach is HARD! Especially when you are not from the area and don’t know the people very well.
  2. It takes time to gain the trust of students you’ve never taught before and create a community around that trust.
  3. English teachers are your friends when you’re trying to find students to write for you!
  4. Research the magazine/newspaper/newsletter you are working for beforehand so you can understand what it’s all about and what you’re trying to produce.
  5. Make sure that everyone is on the same page about article topics/ideas from the very beginning.
    1. If someone decides to write about something that’s not conducive to what Trumansburg is all about, it won’t work. If someone decides to write about a topic that is too similar to another person’s topic– that won’t work either.
  6. Plan out what you are going to teach every week.
  7. Plan out DEADLINES at the very beginning of the semester. **THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT**
  8. Send out weekly e-mails so everyone is on the same page.
  9. Check your e-mail all the time. Link up your e-mail accounts to your phone so you can check your e-mail and be there when student writers and their parents need you.
  10. Keep track of everyone’s names/e-mails. That way, when you send out weekly e-mails, everyone is on the same page.
  11. Have patience while teaching stuff (like AP Style) that people (like 9 year olds) have never heard of or learned about before.
  12. **Editing the writing of children is different from editing the writing of adults and college age students.**
    1. Be nice in your edits and revisions!
    2. Maintaining the voices of student writers is essential to each article.
  13.  Be understanding and aware of situations for students that might arise that prevent them from making deadlines.
  14. Consistency is important. Weekly meetings or meetings every other week will remind people to get on track with their articles. They’ll also see you as a leader/mentor if you’re there for them consistently.
  15. Be comfortable and kind but maintain your status as a leader, a publisher, a teacher, and a professional in the classroom.

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Posted in Things I've Learned in College | 1 Comment

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

(This is a first draft of something that I’m going to workshop in one of my classes.)

Last year my friends and I decided to have a movie night and watch Castaway because it was on Netflix. I’d never seen it before, but I’d heard that there were some scary scenes. A classic Amanda move– I looked it up on Wikipedia and read the plot summary beforehand, scrolling through it on my phone as we watched and the plot of the movie progressed. (Yeah, whatever, why would I do that, that ruins the whole movie, blah blah blah, get over it) 

At one point (SPOILER ALERT) Tom Hanks has to cut out his rotten tooth with an ice skate, which I already knew and was anticipating because I’d read it on the Wikipedia page, so I covered my eyes in a very obvious and dramatic manner and warned everyone, “This part gets scary, I know it!” This was met with groans from my friends and a chorus of “Really, Amanda?s” (Fact: most people don’t like being told what’s going to happen in a movie before it happens.)

There’s a show on Netflix called Jessica Jones that I recently just finished watching, but I couldn’t watch it without looking up the play-by-play of each episode on the Internet beforehand. Same with every single show or movie that I watch. Sometimes if I’m going to see something in the movie theater I won’t look it up, but most of the time I will. If I start watching a new show with a friend and I have questions about something that they won’t answer unless I keep watching, I threaten to look it up on Wikipedia until they tell me.

Why do I do this?

Answer: I suck.

Real answer: I am afraid.

I am afraid of the violence, the blood and gore, being surprised by loud noises and murderers and long lost aunts. (I have a very low tolerance for violence and blood, and also surprises.) I am afraid of that scene in The Incredibles where Mr. Incredible is walking through the forest and that giant robot thing comes out of nowhere. I am afraid of literally every episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I am afraid of that part in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2 where Harry grabs Voldemort by the face and goes, “WE’LL GO DOWN TOGETHER!” and they both fall off the edge of a cliff and they’re grabbing at each other and screaming in some weird terrifying apparition sequence.

I am afraid of not knowing. I like knowing a lot better than not knowing. With knowing, you understand what to expect and what you’re going to get. You can prepare yourself for the worst. I knew beforehand that Tom Hanks was going to cut out his tooth with an ice skate. That was the whole point of looking it up– I didn’t have to experience it in full and watch it if I didn’t want to, because I already knew it was going to happen.

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Over winter break, my grandma, Barbara Livingston, passed away. She died on Christmas day. I was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with my stepfamily and my dad when it happened. My dad had been on the phone with her that morning– she’d called Life Alert because she wasn’t feeling well, but sent the paramedics away because she figured it was just something bad she ate.

A couple of hours later, my dad got a bunch of phone calls from her nursing home and the hospital. She had had a heart attack.

20 minutes after that, my grandma had officially died. My dad and I quickly packed up our stuff in Pittsburgh and left.

Fact: Pittsburgh is a 7 hour car trip from where I live in New York.

Fact: My dad is an excellent multitasker.

For 7 straight hours, my dad was driving while on the phone with everyone that he was related to, was friends with, knew and probably ever existed. He explained what had happened, how the funeral was going to be on Sunday, which was her birthday, that the details of the funeral hadn’t been finalized yet, that he was on his way home, blah blah blah. Over and over and over.

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My dad did not cry. He teared up a little, but he did not cry. It was weird because my dad is a crier (Fact: he cried when he saw High School Musical), but he didn’t have time to cry– he was on the phone for 7 straight hours.

For 7 straight hours, I sat in silence. My dad’s babbling on the phone filled me up. It became every thought that passed through my brain. The same explanation over and over and over, about how my grandma had died and that we were okay and coming home and things were going to be figured out tomorrow.  I had texted my sister and a few of my close friends, but that’s it. My brain felt like radio static.

I did not cry. I didn’t make any noise at all. I had felt pressure behind my eyes like I was going to cry when we had first heard on the phone, but I didn’t cry on that 7 hour car ride. I didn’t have time.

Due to unfortunate circumstances, my sister and I didn’t get to see my grandma Barbie a lot growing up. (Or my dad’s side of the family, for that matter.) It was pretty unfair. We would have relatively short visits with her, and when we did visit my sister Carly and I rolled our eyes and gave short answers when she asked us questions about school and boys, and made comments about our hair. (She loved our hair. She would always try to brush Carly’s or play with it, which Carly hated, to be honest.)

It drove me up the wall when she made comments about my body, or about my hair, or about how I did my makeup. She always asked about my big high school boyfriend, and when we broke up, she continued to ask about him every time I came to visit. It made me want to die.

Like I said, these visits were short. And a lot of the time, they weren’t all that fun. Not getting to see my grandma Barbie a lot when we were younger kind of definitely absolutely took a toll on our relationship with her– visiting with her a lot of the time felt like an obligation, like something we had to do. But we did our best for our dad and for her, because we knew it made them happy, and answered her questions and let her play with our hair and ate the takeout food my dad always picked up pre-visit. And ultimately, we were lucky to have a grandma who loved us that much and was always smiling, even if she didn’t know what was going on.

One thing that I know my sister secretly loved but pretended to hate was singing for my grandma. My sister was the star of our middle school play Annie, as in, she was Annie in Annie, and she is probably the best singer/actress in the whole world, and probably the best person to ever play Annie in Annie. (As her sister, I’m biased. But I swear to god it’s true, she is the best singer/actress in the whole world) My grandma would ask her to sing songs from the play, and Carly would stand up and act like she didn’t want to, but she would sing anyway. I knew Carly did sort of want to sing, somewhere inside of her, because she always, always sang. She would sing The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow at the top of her lungs, just for my grandma.

When Carly would sing, my grandma’s face would light up. You know how when some people talk to you, they seem excited and interested but you can tell they’re acting like that just because they’re trying to be nice? My grandma Barbie was GENUINELY interested, captivated, mesmerized (all of these words are good and fit perfectly here, I couldn’t choose just one) by my sister’s singing. She wouldn’t–couldn’t take her eyes off of her when she sang. She was so excited and entranced and unbelievably p r o u d, and you could read it all over her face. It was so pure.

It was pretty shocking that my grandma died. I mean, she wasn’t all that healthy. She was overweight and diabetic and ordered out for every meal. She stayed in her room at the nursing home she lived in 99.99% of the time and didn’t really socialize except for when she called my dad on the phone 50 million times a day, more than I call my dad on the phone, which is a lot anyway.

So it might not sound like all that much of a surprise that she died (which sounds terrible, but it’s true. Even my dad admitted it), but I think that it counts as a surprise when someone is living and then all of a sudden they’re not. And you were so used to them living and existing, and now they’re not living or existing at all.

I’m writing about this because sometimes I think that if I was ever given the chance to, I’d like to read the Wikipedia page on my life. On Wikipedia profile pages, there’s usually (basically always) a section on aforementioned person’s personal life. Mine would maybe include/say these types of things:

Personal Life


Amanda starts Newsapalooza in 2007. Amanda’s grandma Fran dies in 2008. Amanda gets her first internship at Westchester Magazine in 2010. Amanda officially moves out of her mom’s house in June 2013. Amanda goes off to Ithaca College in August 2013.  Amanda interns at Random House in 2014. (There are lots of other important things in between, but you get the gist.) Amanda comes to terms with trying to get better re: mental illness in the fall of 2014. Amanda discovers Writopia in 2015. Amanda’s grandma Barbie dies in 2015. Amanda gets a job/internship at ________ at this point in time, Amanda’s sister ends up at  _______ for college, her dad moves to _______ after Amanda’s sister goes off to school,  Amanda goes to grad school at ________, Amanda’s sister moves to _______ after college, Amanda gets married (yikes) (to Ryan Gosling? Best Case Scenario: He leaves Eva Mendes for me. If that happened, I might take back the yikes), has kids (yikes), moves to ________,  and some things I don’t even want to think about right now that will inevitably happen that have to do with death, dying, and being dead.

Fact: It is not possible to read the Wikipedia page about your life unless you are a celebrity or a politician or an author or someone else famous/well known. And if you are alive, your Wikipedia page is still being written, so you’re not going to know anything that hasn’t happened yet, which is why this idea/concept would never work. (I mean, there are other reasons why it wouldn’t work, but I’m just saying.)

I think about this sometimes when bad things happen and when I’m really sad. How would I act differently if I saw it coming? How would I act differently if I had read the Wikipedia page on my life and could prepare for all of this stuff? Maybe if my Personal Life section went into detail, it would tell me about every time I would go into a depressive or anxiety-driven state, and maybe I could do something to change my circumstances and how I felt to alleviate those feelings.  If I knew that my grandma was going to die over break, maybe I could have taken the time to get to know her a little bit better and call her more often, which is something I’ve been feeling guilty about and thinking about a lot lately.

That is not a plausible thing to want or wish for. If you knew everything that was going to happen in your life before it happened, you wouldn’t be able to develop as a person or learn or grow from it. And you would just be kind of floating along out there, living a life you already knew. And that wouldn’t be interesting or exciting at all. I wouldn’t feel sad or happy or anxious or scared or depressed or content or anything. I would just kind of be.

The point of this blog is for me to take all of the things that have happened to me and write about them, how they affect my life and who I am as a person– how I grow and learn from my life experiences and how they shape me as a human being. I am Amanda Under Construction. That means my life is constantly changing, things are always happening, good or bad, and I have to take them in stride.

This post kind of took a different direction than I had actually intended, but I think that’s okay. At first, I wanted it to be a post about my grandma Barbie, and the type of person she was and the life she lived. But I don’t think I was ready to write that in its entirety yet, which is why this came out instead. One day I will, but not today.

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Posted in Life Lessons, Things I've Learned in College | 1 Comment