Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Problem with Rotten Sources

I've recently made a habit out of watching poorly made horror films and figuring out how I can apply something from the subpar plots, weak dialogue, and brief moments of morality to my own writing.

Naturally, The Exorcism of Molly Hartley was a solid film to add to my toolbox.

Heralded by several reviewers as “the sequel nobody asked for,” The Exorcism of Molly Hartley is situated nearly six years in the future of its predecessor (The Haunting of Molly Hartley). As you could easily guess, both films follow the life of a young woman named Molly who, with parents involved with the occult, has faced strange, frightening, and even dangerous encounters with the supposed supernatural since her eighteenth birthday. Six or more years of that stuff and you'd be making this face, too:

I guess this is when I should tell you:
  1. The Exorcism of Molly Hartley is unrated, and for good reason. Check out the content advisory guide before watching and always make smart decisions when choosing to view a film.

  2. I might be giving away a few spoilers (okay, I’m giving away most of the plot, but the film is so poorly made that it might not affect your film experience anyway).
To make a long and unnecessary story short, Molly Hartley is dealing with some serious demons and she needs a higher authority to help her clean out that soul house. She has been checked into an asylum after some hiccups and coincidentally, a fallen priest named John Barrow has, too.

Molly’s doctor, Laurie, barters with John—if he can fix Molly up, she’ll sign his release papers. John is naturally interested, so he is given permission to meet with a chaplain and figure out what he needs to do to help Molly out.

This is where I should mention that John’s intentions are good, like most of our intentions are when we approach a piece of writing. He isn’t looking for trouble, and he certainly isn’t looking to be a hero. He just wants a slice of redemption, just like we want that beautiful “A” grade.  

John listens to the chaplain and, word-for-word, does exactly what he tells him. It’s no surprise (or maybe it is?) that he “saves” Molly, earns his freedom, and feels good about a job well-done.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end here.

Things start getting weird at the asylum, and before anyone can piece together what is happening, we find out that the chaplain isn’t necessary a chaplain—he’s a dirty member of the dark side. Everything the chaplain has been telling John hasn’t been to save Molly, but instead to prepare her for the chaplain’s creepy dark side ritual. He’s a no-good, rotten source that has now spoiled all of John’s hard work. John is devastated. Molly is devastated. I was devastated. I’m sure you’re a bit devastated, too.

But isn’t that how it is with sources?

Too often, we rely on rotten sources as the foundation of our knowledge. Weird websites without accreditation or legitimate authors, interviews with people who have nothing to do with the topic, Prezi pages where high school students have put together a list of “symbols” for the book we need to write a five-page paper on, and the list goes on.

While these sources might not seem like much of a horror story, consider this: What happens when the professor goes to sign your release papers (AKA assigns a grade to your essay) and realizes that everything you have written has been tainted by incorrect information and misguided material?

At the end of the film, everyone realized that John had been duped, but he still had to spend the rest of his energy trying to fix everything had he had done wrong.  If he would have spent a little more time researching his sources the first time around, the movie could have ended nearly forty-five minutes sooner and John, Laurie, and Molly would have all been better off.

The quality of our sources define the quality of our words. Instead of skimming through Google search and clicking on dead-end links meant to fool you, throw those rotten sources out of the window and check out some stronger, more reliable sources.

Search Booth Library’s collection of in-house and interlibrary loan sources here.

Search Booth Library’s database collections here.

Use the more academic-friendly version of Google here.

For more information of finding credible sources, check out the University of Illinois's guide here.

Check out Booth Library's user-friendly research guide here.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Trouble in Emoji Paradise

Slate recently posted an article discussing how the discrepancies of emojis amongst mobile devices might “turn disastrous.” The article, entitled Lost in Translation, is presented in a neat video-style format that you can watch here.

Although there isn’t much reporting done on the actual disasters these emojis have caused, there is quite a discussion surrounding unicode—the technology that allows an Apple user (like myself) to send out one emoji, only to have a friend on an Android device receive a completely different emoji.

While several of the instances are relatively similar, such as the relative form of these squares, others don’t necessarily come close.

For example, these ghosts are meant to be silly across Apple and Android devices, while on Samsung and Google, they’re a bit less funny.

The dancing bunny-eared girls, an Apple favorite, seems less about “twinning” and more about, well, something, across the other devices.

One of the worst examples might be the simple look of surprise, another frequently-used Apple emoji. Across the other devices, there is a variety of translations. The Android emoji is giving an angry-eyed kissy-face, the Google emoji looks like an ogre that might cry, and Samsung’s emoji, while the closest translation, looks like a small child facing embarrassment.

Last semester, writing center consultant Nathan wrote an article about how Oxford Dictionaries named the “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji as the word of the year for 2015. He writes: “Part of why this Emoji was chosen is because is transcends languages. That ability makes emojis closer to art than words.”

But what happens when the transcendence of language results in a babble of emojis tossed between the various mobile devices?

While emojis do represent a part of our language that exists without words, that doesn’t mean we can rely on a single representation with the intention of understanding the various translations.

So what does this mean for our writing?

When focusing on a single idea and its incorporation into an argument, we have to remember that the entirety of the argument is made up of many different perspectives, or translations, and it is our job as good writers to make sure readers understand the bigger picture.

For example, suppose you are a guy writing an essay about gender discrimination in the workplace. Is it enough for you to write the essay entirely from your own perspective? Will your reader be able to understand the numerous translations of experience from a sole interpretation of what you think the issue might be?

Probably not.

So what can you do?

  • Be aware of the numerous translations that exist.

  • Do your research and figure out how each perspective fits into the bigger argument.

  • If your intention is to send out information that looks similar to a “goofy ghost,” make sure your reader isn’t receiving something spooky. 

An audience should be able to understand a writer's intentions and perspectives clearly. Don’t be the person who sends out a look-of-surprise, only to have your reader receive a crying ogre.

Intention matters. Perspective matters. Write on.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Revision & The One Draft Wonder

During my time as an undergrad, I used to be a one-draft wonder: up late with my body bent over the keyboard, cramming Lunchables and soda in my face until I reached the mandated page limit. I hadn't always been this way, but once I was trained to write a 5-paragraph essay in under 40 minutes in high school, I couldn't break the pattern of trading less time for less depth of thought. 

After all, why spend more than a few hours on a 5-page paper about the causes of the civil war, business trends, social justice pedagogy, or Shakespeare? What was there to gain?

He doesn't seem to know either.

Well, here's an answer: there is more to good writing than just hitting a page limit. 

I used to feel uncomfortable when a professor would tell the class, "Just say what you have to say," without giving us a mandated page limit. The reality is that when I focused on my topic, I revised more. Without a page limit, there was only the honest truth of what I wanted to address. And the more I enjoyed the subject of my work, the more I wanted to show depth of thought rather than just length. The result was both more clear and more concise.

Am I encouraging you to shirk your page limit? No, but I am encouraging you to think about revision as part of your work. Starting my papers just a few days earlier gave me time to think about my ideas and time to realize them fully. You owe it to yourself and to your ideas.

Have I dug deep enough yet?

Give yourself time for revision, and see it as a crucial step in your work. You'll appreciate your work more, and I'm sure that the benefit of that extra time will pay off when your teacher evaluates your work.