Over this semester I have grown a lot as a writer. One big improvement I noticed is I’m more comfortable with adding and finding quotes for papers and also making sure I’m citing everything the correct way. I’ve realized how important it is to include quotes and evidence especially when you’re trying to prove a point. Another improvement I’ve seen is in my analysis. I’ve seen that in the topics we have covered I was able to talk about them in detail without sounding too repetitive. That has always been a problem for me where I feel like I keep saying the same thing or don’t know what else to say. Something that really helped me was having Olivia in the class and being able to meet one on one. I’m usually not very comfortable sharing my writing but she helped me so much and it was nice getting help from another student at Muhlenberg. I learned a lot about the structure of writing and how not everything has to be or should be a five paragraph essay. I feel now I can be more creative with my writing because I don’t have to necessarily follow a certain format. An area to improve on is writing fiction. I found this a lot harder than writing an essay because I had to make everything up and make sure it made sense. There aren’t as many requirements for fiction as there are when you are writing about a specific real topic.
This week in class we talked about letter writing in forms such as books, music, and TV shows and we also discussed aspects of modern day letter writing. One example of modern day letter writing was from an 11 year old girl who wrote to thank her mailman. It was really kind of her and I think we often take the mail people for granted but they do have an important job and it was nice of her to acknowledge that. I also find it really cool that this girl likes writing letters to people because that doesn’t seem like something a lot of people do now especially at that age. I feel like kids now and even 11 year olds really grew up with having a lot of access to and use of technology which definitely has pros and cons. Meanwhile people my age used technology but even though it wasn’t that long ago, it wasn’t as advanced as it is now where you can really do so many things using only one device. I’m wondering what made this girl become interested in letter writing. I don’t know if at that age I would have been comfortable writing to many people especially ones that I didn’t know. I think sometimes people look at workers in these types of jobs differently than they would look at someone else. I was wondering if people from my town would do this but unfortunately I think a lot of people wouldn’t want to partly because of prejudice. I know that I don’t know my mailman at home at all or really anything about him except how he looks. This article made me want to make sure I’m thanking and acknowledging people who do important jobs that we may not always think are that important. This girl is a great example for everyone. In class we also talked about hand written letters being less convenient and slower but I think we often forget that so many people actually depend on physical mail to make a living. Sending mail is keeping people in work which was definitely important during the pandemic. Talking about modern day letters has made me want to receive some because it really is meaningful to me. I’ve realized that I’m so focused on texting, email, and social media that I haven’t checked my Muhlenberg mailbox in awhile. Although I don’t think there is anything in there. I have a mailbox at home but I’m not used to having to actually go somewhere to pick up mail. At home, if we do ever get anything that’s not junk mail or for the wrong person, it’s just at the end of the driveway.
This week was Thanksgiving break. For Thanksgiving I usually go to my grandparents house on my moms side and it was the same this year. Although it was with my grandparents and the same members of my family it didn’t feel like it used to. I think this is in part due to the fact that this was our first Thanksgiving in my grandparents new house. I didn’t realize how much the move would affect me maybe because I didn’t think it would ever come. They had been living in their house for forty something years. It’s where my mom and her brother grew up and it’s a place me and my brother spent a lot of time at. My friends were confused as to why I was so upset about them moving even though they’ll still be close by but that place is what felt normal and constant to me throughout my life. There was this huge change and it was also during covid. Plus the house was only five minutes away from my house and that was really special and important to my family. I know it’s just a house and I had no control over them moving but I tend to get very attached to certain things and I don’t like big changes. So Thanksgiving this year was nice but strange. Nice because I always enjoy getting to see my family but strange because it didn’t feel like we were supposed to be there. Not in the sense that we were breaking in but because I was so used to a certain routine. It also felt different because it was my first Thanksgiving while being in college. It sort of felt more like I was just visiting and it’s interesting to feel like a visitor in the place you have called home for almost your whole life. It’s also interesting to see what has stayed the same and what has changed in the town or area even though you haven’t been gone for so long. Plus this wasn’t even my first time coming home but I think it was the longest time. I wanted to be comfortable but I also didn’t want to get too comfortable because I knew I wouldn’t be there for that long. I really tried to live in the moment and be thankful that I had a family to go home to who was willing to pick me up from school and wanted to spend time with me. I’m really looking forward to winter break because I like spending time with my friends and family and I’ll get to do that for a nice amount of time and hopefully I won’t get sick of them. It’s still so hard for me to believe that I’m basically done with my first semester of college. It went by so fast and I don’t think I was expecting that.
In class we looked at illustrated letters. I found these very interesting because it is so much more engaging than just a letter with only words. Although at the same time it could be very overwhelming depending on how much art there is. I have always enjoyed doodling and drawing little things but with illustrated letters the drawings really have to mean something or add to the letter whereas doodles are just whatever comes to mind. I think it’s also important that the person is able to follow the text and not get too distracted by whatever else is happening on the paper. It makes me think that while illustrated letters are really cool and engaging it might be better in some cases to only have words on the page. I think the tone and the topic of the letter determine whether or not it should have drawings in it. If there is only text that means the text should definitely be focused on. With illustrated letters it probably also takes a longer time to make it than writing a normal letter. There is more planning because you have to figure out what the drawings will be and the layout of the page. I am interested in the history of illustrated letters because, especially before phones and other kinds of quick communication, illustrated letters must have been the quickest or easiest way to describe something to someone. I’m wondering if most of these kinds of letters were just art or if some of them actually were trying to show something. It can also depend on how the person receiving the letter interprets it. To someone it may be a picture but to others it could have a deeper meaning. Another thing that could be important in illustrated letters is making sure people will actually be able to see and know what the picture is. Although anyone can do an illustrated letter it is definitely more helpful if you are good at art or drawing. I really liked the illustrations from the Letters From Father Christmas book. The whole purpose of the book and the commitment put into it was also very sweet. Being Jewish, I didn’t grow up with Santa or other Christmas traditions but I liked the way everything was done in the book. The drawings made it look kind of like it was taking place in space or in some other futuristic world. I liked that because it was so different from how we see Christmas nowadays. It was interesting to see Christmas being portrayed without so much light and color. Even though one drawing shows the house breaking, overall it feels really peaceful and quiet. I also thought the polar bear letter was so cute.
This week we learned about what to include and not include in a cover letter. This was really helpful because I wasn’t sure what a cover letter was and I hadn’t needed one for any of the jobs I’ve done in the past. I now know how important they are to have especially for someone my age in college who will be soon looking for jobs. It was also helpful seeing different examples of cover letters and what either made them effective or not effective. We also looked at two very different cover letters from Eudora Welty and Robert Pirosh. The one from Welty was more like a traditional cover letter as she gave background information about herself and included the skills she has. The cover letter from Pirosh was interesting because although he did talk a little about his background he spent most of the cover letter talking about the kinds of words he likes. It made me think that the effectiveness of a cover letter also depends on who is it going to and what the job is. In some cases it may be ok to be a little humorous while most times it is probably better to stay serious. In this case his writing was effective because Pirosh was able to show he knew a large variety of descriptive words which is necessary for the job he wanted as a screenwriter. Even though he didn’t talk a lot about his past experiences I think it still shows that he knows what he is doing or wants to do. I think especially in Hollywood he knew that he would have to be very creative and think outside the box if he wanted to secure a job. In Hollywood he would have more potential to be creative than in his job at an advertising agency. The letter ended up getting him three interviews and a job as a junior writer. Even though the cover letter from Pirosh is very interesting and engaging, I think that the cover letter I make for myself will be a lot more like the one from Eudora Welty. I think the jobs I’m interested in align better with her style of writing. It was also interesting looking at potential careers and taking a survey to see what careers were a good match for me. It was helpful seeing what level of education you need for certain jobs. I’m definitely going to use the website to my advantage in the future because I learned a lot. The website also included what jobs are becoming more popular and jobs that are common in certain areas of the United States.
This week in class we did our letters of note presentations. Each one was really interesting especially because everyone chose such different letters to focus on. At the same time though I was able to make some connections with my letter to other peoples letters. One similarity I noticed was there was a theme of some writers being homosexual and either having to hide it or getting in trouble for it. I found the letter I picked really interesting because it was between two very well known writers. Even though I knew who Bram Stoker and Walt Whitman were I enjoyed getting to learn more about them. I know I had read their work before but I never actually really got to look into who they were as people outside their writing. I resonated with how Stoker admired Whitman and really wanted to meet him because I know I have definitely felt that way about authors after reading certain things. I would love the chance to get to ask authors about their books and I think this project has shown me that now it’s even easier to get in touch with people. I still have questions about Stoker and Whitman that I could do more research on that weren’t necessarily related to my project. For example, I want to know more about Dracula. I had read it in school awhile ago and I remember being really interested in it but now I’m wondering more about Stokers influences and why he decided to write this story. From what I can remember it is very different from Walt Whitmans writing. Whitman seems to talk more about issues or things in real life while Dracula is definitely fiction. I think it could be interesting to further compare and contrast their work. I had also forgotten that Dracula as letters and diary entries so it really relates to this class. I would love to know why Stoker chose to write it this way. It seems a lot more difficult than only having one narrator or main character. I thought it was also interesting researching Stoker because I was able to make connections with his life and mine. Even though it was a very long time ago, he went to the college that my friend goes to in Ireland so I felt like I already knew a little bit about it and I could picture what it looks like.
This week in class we watched and discussed the film, Can You Ever Forgive Me?. The topic of the movie was very interesting and surprising. I was surprised that Lee Israel did the forgery in the first place but also that she was able to get away with it for such a long time. As a writer she should have known how wrong and dangerous that was and that she was not only affecting herself but also the bookstore owners and collectors. I feel like even though she was desperate, she should have known the importance of original work and I think that she probably wouldn’t have wanted the same thing to happen to her. I was also very surprised by the punishment she got. For all that she did, it did not seem like the punishment matched the crime. I was expecting her to go to jail for some period of time but she was put on house arrest. She is also told to go to alcoholics annonymous but in the movie she is seen at a bar drinking. I don’t know how accurate this part is or if it was just done for the movie but I’m wondering why she wasn’t being more careful. I’m interested in reading more about her and seeing what was done for the movie and what actually happened in real life. It’s interesting to me how movies kind of have to alter a story to make it more scandalous or intriguing when the original story itself is already so crazy. I’m also wondering if Lee Israel was forgiven and by who and more of the legacy she left behind now that she’s dead. Did this whole thing make her more popular or well known and is that a good thing? I think it shows that you can still do bad or wrong things and become well known. It’s not for the right reasons but at the same time she was getting her name out and it probably made people want to read her work. In a way did doing something wrong actually help her more than it hurt her? I had never heard of Lee Israel before but now I’m very curious about learning more about her and I also want to read her book. I would like to also hear from the people she was tricking to understand better how they figured it out and what gave it away.
The letter of historical note that I read was from Benjamin Franklin in 1772. I found a lot of things very interesting about this letter especially for this time period. For example, Franklin used the pen name Silence Dogood in his letter and his alter ego wrote from the perspective of a woman. One reason this is interesting to me is because he wrote as if he was a woman during a time when it would’ve have been easier or better to get something published as a man. I’m wondering why he didn’t pick another male name or even make it anonymous. Yet at the same time he did have to use this fake name for a reason. It was because his brother wouldn’t publish Franklins work in his newspaper. I found this weird because they were brothers and that seems like something family would do for each other although I can see how there could be competition with this. From doing research I found out his brother, James Franklin, denied to publish his letters several times when he used his real name. I was also wondering why did he focus so much on this newspaper in particular when he could have probably gone somewhere else and gotten his work in under his own name. I’m wondering if he may have wanted to write from another perspective in the first place. He does a good job of covering up his real identity as he makes Silence Dogood’s background much different from his own. Another thing I found out was Benjamin Franklin was 16 and working as an apprentice to his brother when he wrote the letter. It seems hard to believe that a 16 year old could write so well from a perspective so unlike his own. I think it shows he was able to pay attention to details about other people which is what made the letters so good and believable. Another thing I’m thinking about is people didn’t live very long back then so maybe 16 was basically like being an adult. It’s interesting that people were able to do such amazing things then because now even with all the resources and technology we have, people aren’t always able to do work like that especially at that age. I think that in a way Franklin can be seen as an activist for women because even though it wasn’t his own life he was writing about he was able to communicate in a way what women were going through during that time.
For the research paper, I am interested in looking more into letters between people in relationships whether it is a romantic love letter, friends, or people who are pen pals. I think I want my main question to be about how letter-writing affects relationships between people for the better or worse. I think how much people are willing to share shows how strong a relationship is or how strong a person may want it to be. It would also be interesting to analyze the tone or theme in the letters over time to see if and how they change. I will use the resources I was already provided and look into finding more examples of letters that show strong or valuable relationships. For information on love letters, from class, I can use My Dear Bessie and the love letters to strangers. For pen pal relationships I can look at 84 Charing Cross Road and also find more examples. Another idea I have would be looking into more letters that are similar to the one Kurt Vonnegut wrote to a school board. I would want to see why certain letters are written and what is the impact for both the writer and the person receiving them. I also want to see if writing letters has been a persuasive technique for people who are trying to prove a point or get something done. I would look at who is receiving the letter and why they are receiving it, the audience it is shared with, and what actions happen after people read it. It would be interesting to look at letters from history during important events and see how letters played a role in them. One letter that comes to mind is Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. I could talk about why he wrote it to certain people, what was it in response to, and how it got out to the public. I could even be more specific in my overall topic and focus on a single time period such as letters from the civil rights movement in the 1960s. It would also be interesting though to see look at letters from different time periods and see if they were effective in those different time periods.
We read a letter from Kurt Vonnegut to a high schools head of the school board for demanding his book, Slaughterhouse-Five be burned. Before reading the letter based on what a classmate already knew about Vonnegut, we expected the letter to be harsher and less controlled as we learned that Vonnegut wasn’t afraid to voice his opinions. After reading the letter, we realized it was different in some ways from his normal approach to writing. For example, he made his point very clear but he did so in a mostly mature and calm way. Another important part of the letter was the fact that Vonnegut emphasized he is real. He did this by talking about his experience with his own family and that they turned out fine even though they were exposed to certain themes some people think children shouldn’t be exposed to. He argues that exposing children to certain themes or ideas won’t make them monsters or bad people and it’s important to show children all ideas instead of hiding them. Also when Vonnegut says, “I am writing this letter to let you know how real I am.” he does so as a way of saying he is a real person. He also says this because he thinks you wouldn’t burn someone’s work in front of them and the reason why the school did this is because they don’t really know or have the wrong idea of who Vonnegut is. This is why he almost has to prove he is real by giving examples of things real people do like raise a family. As mature as the letter is it also feels sort of threatening. In some parts of the letter, I think he is implying he could do things if he needed to. He does this by writing about how he is a big and tall man that knows how to use tools and has a Purple Heart. I don’t think he would think violence is the answer but it just adds to the idea of him being a real person. Class this week was also focused on reading epistolary fiction. One of the stories I read was A Wilderness Station by Alice Munro. One thing I found interesting about this story was all the characters had letters written to or from them except for Simon, who was killed. I’m wondering why the author chose not to add anything from him before he died. I think it would have been helpful to know more about the relationships between Simon and his brother and wife from his perspective. The story left me with a lot of questions like what did Annie and George talk about when they met up after all those years? I think it is supposed to be up to the reader’s interpretation but I’m still curious about what the author had in mind for this part and other mysterious parts of the story. I liked that there could be various ideas of who killed Simon and you have to use whatever evidence is in the letters to form your opinion. Plus we don’t know what if anything is being left out. It is also helpful to hear from most of the characters’ perspectives instead of just having one main character.