Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Rob Townsend's Biggest Project Yet

Intended for the Kalamazoo College Index, lengthy features piece.

Rob Townsend refers to the day Kalamazoo College hired him as “the sweetest day.” It was Valentine’s Day of 1980 and he came to the school as a sanitary engineer which, he says, is a fancy term for custodian. After six months he moved up the ranks to grounds maintenance, and twelve years into the job he started working on his prized project: the recycling program.

Rob has a cheerful demeanor and an impressive beard. “If he shaved his beard, no one would know who this man was,” says Maddie Baxter, a student who has worked on Rob’s staff for a couple of months. The bushy patch of grey hair hangs down several inches below his chin and connects to a comparably thick moustache above his upper lip.

He was born hearing impaired and uses white hearing aids, visible when he turns to the side. They allow him to catch about 80% of a conversation, he says, which is good enough for him. As a young child, Rob’s parents took him to university medical centers, where he was taught lip reading, how to identify sounds and speech techniques.

It seems fitting that Rob found his career calling at a college, given that he has been around them since his toddler years. Rob came to K when, after a couple of years of taking college classes, he tired of relying on his parents for housing and money. He learned from a friend that the school was hiring and decided to apply.

The recycling part of the job was not something Rob had anticipated when he came to the College, although he says it fits in with his way of life. The youngest of five boys, Rob says, “I got a lot of hand-me-down clothes, hand-me-down toys…I’m not real picky about brand new stuff.”

20 years ago Facilities Management (FacMan) decided to take over a small recycling program started by student environmental group EnvOrg and biology professor Paul Sotherland. Paul Manstrom, Associate Vice President of FacMan, looked to Rob to head the program. He cites Rob’s commitment to sustainability as a major reason for choosing him. Rob says, “[Paul] thought that I was just going to go pick up paper. No, I had a long-term goal and, as you see, where we’re at—that’s my long-term goal.”

Rob’s enthusiasm sometimes goes to far, says Paul Manstrom. “He’s very stubborn,” he says. “Sometimes [his] vision wants to carry him faster than we have the resources for.”
Lately Rob’s vision has been directed toward composting. “Composting in soon to be more in demand,” says Rob. “[The College would] like to step it up to pursue in the composting, so that will be my major project this year and this summer.”

Right now Rob has an active yard waste composting system in place at the College’s Lillian Anderson Arboretum. Since early spring Rob has advised FacMan to resume dumping leaves and grasses at the site, something they did years ago. “We’ll start collecting the yard waste this coming fall, winter,” he says.

Rob wants the composting arrangement to include food waste. Currently he collects bins of cafeteria leftovers and brings them to a farm 20 minutes from the College, three times a week, where he gives the food to pigs.

Moving food to the composting site would save Rob time and fuel, he says. He also takes issue with the fact that the school pays the farm to take its leftovers. “I totally disagree with that,” Rob says. “The way I see it is we’re helping them decrease the cost of food they need to feed their livestock.”

Paul Manstrom dislikes the arrangement as well. “[It’s] not a great situation,” he says. But he says the farm was the only place he could find that would take the food. The transportation and collection processes that he and Rob have worked out for taking the food to the farm, he says, will be useful once the composting program develops.

Rob needs to figure out the logistical issues involved with the project, namely the target balance of food and yard waste, and the space needed to realize the project. “We generate anywhere from two to three tons of food waste per week,” he says. ”When I get enough [yard waste], then that will justify for me to put the food in.”

Paul Manstrom says the College is also apprehensive about putting a large composting site in the Arboretum, which they hope to use as the site for a still-in-the-works Center for Environmental Stewardship.

Rob and Paul Manstrom both agree that Rob needs an assistant if he wants to complete the project. They have run into financing roadblocks with the administration on this issue, says Paul Manstrom. Many departments want funding for extra staff, he says, and the administration does not necessarily see recycling as a top priority.

The rest of the recycling program currently competes for Rob’s attention during the day. He oversees a staff of 20 students, who notice that Rob can seem overextended. “Sometimes he seems kind of disorganized and flustered,” says Aya Cockram, who worked for recycling throughout her four years at K.

“He’s not the most organized person I’ve worked for,” Maddie agrees, but is quick to add, “he’s probably one of the most pleasant and friendly people I’ve worked for.” Aya also emphasizes Rob’s positive side over his disorganization. “He’s the best,” she says.

Rob hopes to stick around at the recycling program for another five or six years, health permitting. He has recently experienced health setbacks that have pushed him to slow down and to listen to his body, he says. “There are days where I feel crappy and I just don’t feel like I want to come in,” he says. “But you know, it’s kind of hard for me [because] I’m so dedicated to K College.” Rob, ever optimistic, tends not to dwell on this negativity. “I got time,” he says, reassuringly. “I got time.

Final Process Writing

This is going to be a jumbled mess of words.

Writing the pieces for this class has taught me a lot about what kinds of stories I like to cover.  I chose to do a profile piece for my final assignment in part because I've discovered I really enjoy learning about people.  I like doing pieces where I can spend several hours with a subject and follow them around while they work.  I want to hear people's stories.  My struggles come when I have to write biased pieces about said people.  I tend to enjoy my time with interview subjects, so I think sometimes my pieces are too positive.  The irony of this is that I get annoyed when reading other people's pieces that have no depth like this.  So that's a thing I realized I need to work on as I continue my journalism career.  

The personal essay was also an interesting practice in new writing for me.  I don't write about myself, especially not for other people's reading.  I struggled with trying to make sure the piece focused on me instead of my peers, who were a big part of the story I tried to tell.  I think telling a story about myself helped me to learn about telling other people's stories.  I had to dig deep to figure out how to express all that I wanted to express, and that made me realize the depth I should strive to achieve when I talk to other people, so that I can tell their stories as well as possible.

Workshop was great.  I love constructive criticism.  It is my greatest tool for improving my work, and I prefer it when it is not sugar coated.  Readers gave me great input on my pieces.  Lots of times I would put in elements confusing to someone who hadn't been there, and feedback there was invaluable in improving my pieces.  The hardest part of workshopping was sorting through comments and choosing which ones to address.  Lots of times comments could have pulled my piece in a number of different directions, so this really just came down to where I wanted the piece to go.  I usually had an angle in mind, so I looked at comments that applied to the angle.  Sometimes I put more value on comments from people whose writing style I prefer, which is maybe not the best way to go about things, but I always considered all of the feedback.  Sometimes it didn't matter because everyone gave useful feedback that pointed me in one direction.

I think this course mostly taught me how to get more depth out of a piece.  In doing interviews for The Index and writing shorter pieces, I didn't always get the chance to really know my subjects.  Sometimes I still don't, but I've tried harder to have more meaningful and longer interviews with people who know about a topic.  Also I've learned about organization for long pieces.  I'm used to defaulting to inverted pyramid for stories, but in doing features stuff I've had fun learning how to weave back and forth between topics and information in ways that keep the reader interested about a topic.


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Personal Essay Supplement

These are the trailers for a documentary made recently about the football team at the high school I would have attended in Dearborn, had I not moved.  It touches a lot on post-9/11 sentiments both in the community and from outsiders, which is what I wrote about for my personal essay.  Just in case anyone was interested in learning a little bit more about the place/situation I wrote about months ago!



Rob Townsend Audio Slideshow

video

This is an audio slideshow for my article about Rob Townsend.  It focuses on his recycling project.  
The audio didn't turn out as well as I wanted because I did interviews outdoors and inside.  The microphones on these recorders don't handle wind very well, so the background noise really varies from clip to clip.  Otherwise, enjoy!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

"Busiest Guy on Campus": The Process

I had a great time working on this piece about Recycling Coordinator Rob Townsend.  I spent two and a half hours following him around last week, during which he took me to the arboretum to see the composting site and to the pig farm where he deposits leftover food from the caf.  He's chatty: I think I have over three hours of audio, which will be interesting to edit when I set up my slideshow.

Right now the piece's most glaring error is that I've only talked to Rob himself.  This is mostly a product of timing--I wasn't able to follow him until last week.  So far I have two interviews set up with other K College staff members that he said know him well and one with a girl who works on his recycling staff.  Hopefully those will give me some more insight into his personality.

My biggest question has to do with content: is it interesting?  I have so much stuff that I struggled with what to leave in and what to cut out.  My goal is to weave a story about his background in with the story of his current life at work, but I'm not sure if I got too bogged down in background and didn't give a clear enough picture of the recycling program.  I also have an awkward break between the fourth to last paragraph and the rest of them.  Hopefully interviewing other people will help me fill in some gaps.

A big thing I'd like to add: Rob's love of art.  He's showing me his art books on Thursday, and he refers to it as his real passion.  He majored in art when he went to Western and still does it now.  He says it's the first way he communicated with his parents since he couldn't yet talk when he was really little.  I'm trying to figure out where to plug this in because I think it's really important to his personality.

Also, it's going to be really long if I don't cut things and I add in the art thing and the other interview information.  Problematic!  Let me know if you have any suggestions on what to cut out.

Kalamazoo College's "Busiest Guy on Campus"


Rob Townsend refers to the day Kalamazoo College hired him as “the sweetest day.” It was Valentine’s Day of 1980 and he came to the school as a sanitary engineer, he says, which is a fancy term for custodian. After six months he moved up the ranks to grounds maintenance, and twelve years into the job he started working on his prized project: the recycling program.

At the time, the newly formed environmental student group EnvOrg wanted to start up a recycling system on campus. Rob says one of his bosses asked him if he would take on the job.  He asked for some time to think it over, but took the job a couple of days later. “[My boss] thought that I was just going to go pick up paper. No, I had a long-term goal and, as you see, where we’re at—that’s my long-term goal,” Rob says.

He has come a long way from his early years, when the educational administration in Kalamazoo said he most likely would not graduate high school. Rob was born deaf. A car accident during his mother’s pregnancy left him with undeveloped hairs in his inner ear, which have a crucial function in the process of hearing. 

It took his parents a while to realize it. By the time he was 18 months, however, they noticed he didn’t respond when they called out to him. They took him in for testing and learned he had impaired hearing.

“I did not go to kindergarten or preschool like most kids do; I went to college,” Rob says. “I went to George Washington University at 18 months old to learn lip reading, identifying sounds, speech.” At the time he lived in Washington, DC. His family moved to Ohio a couple of years later because of his dad’s job in the Air Force. There, he went to Ohio State. By the time the family moved to England, Rob was ready to start elementary school.

He had no trouble in the classroom overseas learning to write and read with other kids who were not hearing impaired. Rob had hearing aids to help him function in a verbal setting. He and his family moved to Kalamazoo permanently after his dad retired from the Air Force and, there, Rob began to have some trouble in school

His second grade teacher liked to focus on kids she identified as gifted, Rob says. She did not know what to do with a hearing-impaired student. Rob began to struggle in class and she recommended he go to a school for children with disabilities, where he repeated second grade.

His parents spent four years fighting with the school board to put him back in the regular school system. When they succeeded, Rob had to repeat fourth grade, putting him two years behind his peers. This is when he was told he would most likely never graduate.

Rob proved the system wrong, earning enough credits to graduate high school a semester early but opting to stay and spend time with his friends. He started at Western Michigan University a week after graduation, and eventually moved to Kalamazoo Valley Community College where he could be in smaller classes.

The upside to Rob’s stint in the school for students with disabilities came years later, when he decided to attend a school reunion. “I kind of was looking around and all of a sudden there’s these little sparkling eyes,” he says. “I noticed this one girl, this one gal kept looking at me.” He started dating the woman, Jenifer, soon after and they eventually married.

Rob comes from a big family—he’s the youngest of five brothers. “I think that’s part of the reason why my job is sort of related to recycling,” he says. “I got a lot of hand-me-down clothes, hand-me-down toys, so I’m accustomed to it. I’m not real picky about brand new stuff.”

Some of Rob’s duties directly involve hand me downs. He runs the Resource Exchange Program, a collection of discarded objects to be handed down to new students. People dispose of products no longer useful to them—from academic tools, to kitchen utensils, to lamps—and other students can peruse the storage room and take things they need for free.

Rob also works on recycling-related programs off campus. He started a composting initiative at the College’s Lillian Anderson Arboretum, just over 10 minutes west of the campus. Right now he composts yard waste, but he hopes to one day incorporate food waste into the mix.

Rob collects bins full of the cafeteria’s leftovers several times throughout the week. Currently he takes them to a farm about 20 minutes from the College called Lake Village Homestead. Rob drives onto a field and dumps the food into a pile for eager pigs. “They’ve got the best meal plan,” he says.

Moving food to the composting site would save Rob time and fuel, concentrating both tasks in the same place. Rob also takes issue with the fact that using the current system, he says, the school pays the farm to take its leftovers. “I totally disagree with that,” Rob says. “The way I see it is we’re helping them decrease the cost of the food they need to feed their livestock.” This situation frustrated him enough that he started looking into ways to add food into the arboretum composting mix.

Rob does not anger easily. His wife, who is also hearing impaired, speaks American Sign Language. This has taught him to be patient during disagreements. “I don’t know how to argue with my hands,” he says. He has a general philosophy of taking things as they come. Negative dispute, he says, “is a waste of my time and energy.”

His attitude carries over to his job. Rob has a special system for categorizing problems. He breaks them down into the good, the bad and the ugly. “If it’s good, leave it alone. You’re happy with it,” he says. Bad things, he says, can be good or ugly. They are things you still want to work on, things that could eventually be made good. Ugly things are not worthy of time and energy. “Get rid of it. End of story,” says Rob.

Rob hopes to stick around at the recycling program for another five or six years, health permitting. He was recently diagnosed with stage one non-Hodgkin follicular lymphoma. It is a slow growing cancer, he says, and he does not currently have to undergo treatment. However he was also told that it can be treated, but not cured. The diagnosis has inspired him to listen to his body more, he says. He has let go of some responsibilities, namely retiring from the LandSea program, an outdoor orientation for first-year students entering into the College.

He hopes the summer will give him a bit of a break too. He will be working on a variety of projects, from revamping recycling bins to organizing an annual furniture sale that benefits the recycling program. He will have a staff of 15 people helping out with the projects, 10 of whom have worked recycling before, he says. Their knowledge will make it easier for him to run the program over the academic break.

“There are days where I feel crappy and I just don’t feel like I want to come in,” he says. “But you know, it’s kind of hard for me [because] I’m so dedicated to K College.” Rob hopes to take a month off at some point to visit as many of the 59 state parks as he can with his wife, but otherwise he plans to stick around. “I am very optimistic about it; I’m a fighter,” he says. “I am determined to try to beat this thing. So I got time. I got time.”

Friday, May 18, 2012

Kalamazoo's furniture Emporium (Revised)


For the few hours that Emporium—an antique furniture store in downtown Kalamazoo—opens each day, a colorful flag on the back of a Ford pickup waves passersby into the large parking lot. Between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on weeknights, and 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on weekends, customers squeeze themselves through narrow aisles to scope out furniture and other trinkets. 

“It’s haphazard,” says Amanda, a woman in her 20s who recently moved to the area. She stops by to look around and to see what kinds of furnishings the store holds. “I’m afraid I’m gonna, like, tip something over! I don’t know how they get it all in here.”

The furniture at Emporium fills three old farm buildings. Chairs rest on sideboards and tables balance on top of one another. “There’s a whole lot of people that wouldn’t set foot in this place,” says its owner, Bob Medema. “People who are wantin’ modern things. They don’t come here. They don’t understand this.”

Bob opened Emporium 44 years ago. Dave Cretsinger, the only other employee, joined him four years later. Bob says he initially organized his small collection of furniture into room arrangements. As he and Dave accumulated products over the years, however, they gave up on keeping things orderly. “Wherever we find a place to set [a piece] down,” Dave says, is where it goes.

A red barn serves as Emporium’s main structure, separated from a small building in the back by a pile of furniture that has not yet been pulled inside. Across a wide driveway, a long, cinderblock building runs along the length of the other two. Bob says the property used to serve various farm functions, from providing an area to hatch chickens, to storing feed.

No obvious characteristics differentiate the furniture in each space. Each building smells damp and slightly musty. Bob and Dave, however, have a methodology to choosing a building for each piece. They keep furnishings made of lighter wood and ones with flaws in the finish in the small back building. The concrete floor and ceiling produce significant moisture, they explain, especially during the spring, which leads to more furniture damage.

The hum of fans provides soothing white noise in each of the three buildings, but most notably in the largest. Bob and Dave use them to deal with the humidity problem. “A cheap fan is wonderful. You need air circulating,” Bob says. The main red barn seems airiest and houses the widest variety of objects, from a Victorian-looking doll carriage to a disconnected water fountain. 

Customers react differently to the chaos and sprawl that characterizes Emporium. Chris Latiolais, a fan of 17th and 18th century European antiques, finds the arrangement off-putting. “It tends to be dirty and it quite often is cold there…it’s certainly not the type of shop where you just enjoy the actual ambiance,” he says. He also questions the quality of Emporium’s products, noting that people may not go there to find fine antiques.

Bob and Dave hold their products in high opinion, but recognize that not all are of top-notch caliber. Part of this comes from their decision to help out neighbors looking for some quick cash. One Thursday evening, two men come in with a couple of benches they hope to sell. Dave pulls Bob out of the barn to negotiate price, warning him in advance that the benches appear to have come from a kitchen set. “I don’t want none of that stuff,” Bob says, but wanders outside anyway.

One of the men greets him with a friendly “Hey Bob.” He explains that the benches came from a friend’s church.

“These ain’t outta no church.  Don’t tell me these are out of a church, ‘cuz they’re not.” Bob responds. 

After some inspection, Dave clarifies: “They came with a kitchen table.” Bob repeats the sentiment.

The men insist that they got the benches because their friend planned to buy new ones for her center of worship.

“Well it musta been an awful poor church,” Bob eventually says.

“Yeah, it was,” says the vendor.

Eventually Bob buys the benches for $12, despite the sellers’ insistence that he give them at least $15. Although Bob and Dave consider the benches low quality and doubt they will sell, they buy them to help out the men who brought them in. The sellers are what Bob and Dave call street people: “people who are down on their luck…need some money, so it’s kind of like a donation,” says Dave. He and Bob find it important to help people out a bit when they need it. “If I lose money just giving it away I don’t feel bad, ‘cuz once in a while they’re bringing something good, and you gotta learn to give stuff away,” Bob says.

The bright side of the bench purchase: the sellers brought a pair. “I’m a nut for pairs,” Bob says, “Oh, I can’t tell you how much I like two.” The upstairs area of the barn—accessed by a staircase lined with customer thank-you notes, testaments to Bob and Dave’s popularity—houses endless chairs. Bob has them set out in surprisingly organized, even-numbered clusters, as if waiting for an audience to fill them. An odd chair confuses people, says Bob. “They can’t figure out money when it comes to five chairs.”

Pairs crop up in other areas of the store. Two glass panels hang from the ceiling of the biggest building, their symmetry offset by a large parrot hanging nearby and holding a Corona. In the back of the building, two advertising posters from a teen clothing store brighten up the walls. Bob says he hung them up so that young people will know they are welcome.

The young people that visit Emporium do not seem to be the type to buy colorful, branded outfits. All the same, they do come to the store in fairly large numbers. Several couples and groups of friends in their mid- to late-twenties pass through over the course of two nights. “Old stuff. I like old stuff,” says one woman, dressed in a dark clothing, in an aloof tone. “They have a lot of everything,” her shopping companion says, affirming their interest. “A lot of stuff from everywhere.”

At the end of a Tuesday night, a pickup truck pulls into the driveway. Bob and Dave walk over to greet a frequent seller. They have known the man, Scott, for years, having first met him at shows in Ann Arbor. Scott comes by a couple of times a month to sell furniture he has bought at estate and other sales.

Scott, Bob and Dave discuss the pieces he has brought—a full furniture set, including a narrow set of drawers called a lingerie chest—while conversing like old friends. No haggling happens this time. Scott’s wife, Denise, says Scott writes down the amount he paid for the furniture and Bob gives him a reasonable profit.

It takes a while to unload the pieces. The sun begins to set as Emporium nears closing time, while Bob and Dave enjoy a last trade for the evening. A neon sign takes over for the now less-vibrant flag, reminding potential customers that the store’s window of business will stay open for just a few more minutes.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Response: The Events of October

The Events of October by Gail Griffin


I could not put this book down.  Although I disliked the writing style—I'm not a big fan of flowery language and the passive voice, especially in nonfiction—Gail Griffin organized the pieces in such a way that I found myself immediately drawn in.  Her decision to place the murder-suicide in the middle of the book initially had me confused about how she would fill the rest of the novel.  This excellent organizational choice, however, allowed the novel to really become a narrative about the widespread effects of the murder on campus.  Griffin told this story through an impressive array of outside input, interviewing Wardle's friends as well as Neenef's.  She showed the spectrum of student responses and also discussed the administrative nightmares involved in the aftermath, a part of the story I would not have considered.  The way Griffin portrayed the president of the College allowed me to feel what she did during the ordeal—a combination of anger and respect.  


Griffin treats Neenef and his friends with surprising but necessary sympathy.  She lets his friends express their grieving process, which they found complicated by his role in the event.  I feel as if Griffin anticipated the reader's response, or perhaps wanted to reflect what seemed to be the response of many campus members; while she eventually brings the issue to its larger societal implications, she first brings us through the process of deconstructing the entire situation.  While clearly presenting the horror of the situation, Griffin also considers Neenef's family situation and the problems of masculine socialization.  In this way, she makes the complexities of the greater situation clear but ultimately (and rightly) condemns its perpetrators.


Griffin comes at the story with a specific perspective and a message—to educate the public about the domestic violence crisis in America.  I think she makes this very transparent, so I had no problem with the angle.  I still struggle with the difference between creative nonfiction and narrative journalism, because I find the term journalism to imply more of a presentation of facts without tons of interpretation.  Perhaps this story represents the former and not the latter?  I may be looking at it incorrectly.  Either way, I think Griffin did an excellent job of addressing this dreadful topic with sensitivity, while still driving home important statistics and raising awareness about ever-present threats to women's safety.  Hearing the story through many voices made it incredibly strong and resonant.

I couldn't decide whether to put my two small problems with the presentation of facts at the start or the end because they did not affect the impact the story had on me.  I will leave them here as an afterthought:
1. I assumed, given Griffin's thorough reporting, that she had tried to contact the Odah family and failed to get a response.  That being said, I wanted to know the details upfront, before the story began.  She describes her efforts to get in touch near the end of the novel; however, I initially resisted some of her analysiswithout actual family inputof the Odahs situation, especially in regard to them being immigrants.

2. I am pretty sure Frelon is not "the Spanish word for 'butterfly'" (53).  This has nothing to do with the actual story here, and I know it's just my unnecessary nitpicking that drew my attention to it; however, it throws me off whenever reporters presenting a lot of big, complex facts fail to fact-check simple, quick ones.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Reading Response: Auperlee, Boo & Finkel

Mother who beat cancer walks miles... (Auperlee)


I found this to be a well-written narrative about a struggling mother who loves her sons.  At the same time, the Jackson Citizen Patriot should not have put it in their news section because of Auperlee's angle.  Auperlee does a decent job of expressing both sides of the mother in question, Gail Hammett.  He brings up her alcoholism, he talks to her son's aunt about her concerns and he tells about the time a friend she brought over threatened Hammett and her disabled son at knifepoint.  I appreciate that he wove this into a story that also focused significantly on what she does for her sons and the struggles she's had in her personal life.


However: "It is impossible to measure a mother’s love and devotion to her children, but consider this."  Auperlee begins his conclusion with this sentence, which precedes a reiteration of Hammett's commitment to visiting her son and the pain it inflicts upon her.  To me this screams of editorializing and emotional manipulation.  As a news story, this sentence and its connotations should have no place in the piece.


I like the way in which Auperlee starts this story.  He sets it up with teen boys joking around and, although he mentions that they're in wheelchairs, he does not focus on their disability.  The story is really about friendship between people with the same injury, which makes it a little different than the standard, uplifting story about injured teens who still keep an upbeat attitude.  He includes a section about their frustrations, which I like.  Although the boys seem to be okay with their situation, I appreciate his portrayal of the more difficult parts of their life.  There's a good balance in the article that prevents it from being overly optimistic.

The homecoming scene at the end did a good portrayal of the way the boys navigate everyday life in high school.  It was a bit cliche, especially here: "So, in the end, the boys' biggest challenges at Homecoming had nothing to do with wheelchairs or accidents. Their issues were all too-normal: a loose bow tie and an ill-fitting crown."  Overall though I feel that Auperlee did a good job with the subject.


Life On Chittock (Auperlee)


Auperlee's focus on a collection of residents gave this piece a good dimension.  He talks to a woman who watches a huge group of kids on the block and to a man who sits on his porch alone and reports traffic problems.  My one criticism of his selection is that I would have like to hear the voices of some of the younger residents.  Overall, though, I liked that he showed the neighborhood through the voices of its residents.


The police information also added to the piece.  It shows the crime that does occur in the area, but also indicates that it often isn't caused by residents.


The Marriage Cure (Boo)


This piece was really well done.  As always with this kind of topic, I sometimes have trouble with the idea of a successful journalist dropping in on a low-income community and thinking they can represent them.  With this piece, though, I think Boo did a good job of observing and writing what she heard.  It made me think of Trina and Trina, by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc.  Unlike in that story though, I wasn't uncomfortable with the reporter's involvement in the lives of these women.  When Kim couldn't catch a bus to get to the mall, Boo didn't offer to drive her.  She essentially refused to interfere directly in their lives, which I thought was great.  It got rid of the savior complex that bothered me in Trina and Trina.


I am glad that Boo pointed out the outdated and situationally distant marriage curriculum.  When I started reading about the program, I was put off by the government's idea of saving poor women by marrying them off.  While that wasn't specifically addressed--and rightfully so, if it didn't put off Kim or Corean--Boo mentioned that the conflicts that arose as examples in the class did not match the real problems those women had with men.  I found this marriage frame interesting in general.  The story was not really about marriage, although Kim did hope to marry Derrick.  The story was about her struggle and Corean's struggle to rise out of their situation, Corean by sending her high-achieving son to college and Kim by making "normal-lady" plans for her future.  The marriage angle gave it a unique aspect, so it didn't seem like just another narrative about a poor person striving for a better future.


Yemen: Exporting Democracy (Finkel)


I did not even realize this piece lacked pictures until I sat down to do this analysis.  Finkel describes the scene quite well, making it easy for me to picture the scenes.  He describes the physical appearance of the people less, but that didn't really bother me.  He also held back on over-doing the review information in each segment but gave enough information so that people reading the series over several days would know the important details.


I liked the topic.  There was a lot of media focus on US military involvement in the Middle East at this time, so it was interesting to read about other US involvement efforts.  Finkel did seem to lean toward promoting Madrid's work and portraying the residents of Yemen as anti-American extremists, which is probably my biggest complaint about the piece.  Other than that I felt like I learned a bit about government and tribes in Yemen, and the way in which these two things are closely tied together.  Even with my limited background in this area, I understood the surface level of the situation, which is all someone can get from something as short as this.  Finkel explained things in a non-confusing way that drew me into the text. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

CYOA Week 7: Responses

The French Fry Connection

I was intrigued by the decision to use the import and export of french fries as a way to look at the Asian economic crisis and its effects on the United States.  Read did a nice job of tracking the movement of the potatoes from the farm to the McDonalds outlets.  This setup emphasized the tie between the Hutterite farmers and food consumers across the globe.  Read emphasized this connection again at the end of the piece, when he talked about the losses that both sides suffered after the economic collapse.  At first it seemed that the Hutterites took a harder hit, losing houses while middle class Indonesians lost the ability to eat McDonalds once a week.  By the last paragraph, though, it becomes clear that people in Indonesia have also lost homes and jobs.  I could see the reciprocal effects of the global economy on both of these places.

I had a couple of problems with the narration style.  I know this is a series and that some background information is necessary at the start of each piece, but I thought Read got a little too repetitive sometimes.  I also wanted him to give me his sources.  I felt like he kind of departed from real journalism when he narrated some of the scenes that I would assume he did not experience (the boat having mechanical problems, the sailor baring his teeth as he addressed them).  Maybe he was there, and if so, he should make it clearer.  Finally, I got stuck on some of the economics, but I can't tell if Read did a bad job of explaining it or if I am just so bad at understanding that kind of thing that I couldn't process his information.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

CYOA: Captive Audience

Emily Guzman and I chose a radio piece for this week's CYOA (yay, radio!).  We'd like you to listen to the first act of a This American Life episode called Held Hostage.  You can access it here.  Click on the play button next to Act One Captive Audience.  The segment we want to focus on is about 15 minutes long; the link will start playing it at the right point, and then it goes until about 21 min.  


The piece focuses on political kidnappings in Colombia and the way in which families contact their loved ones through radio.  Since we're going to be doing audio pieces this quarter, think about how the elements of this piece work.  How do the different voices enhance the story?  Also:



1. If you don't know Spanish, how did you feel about the non-translated parts of the piece at the start?  Did they enhance the piece, or were they distracting?
2. Do Viviana's story and the reporter's story work well together?  Would you consider this one narrative or two different narratives?
3. The reporter leaves Viviana's story unresolved in this segment.  Is that okay with you?

Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Emporium: The Process

Bob Medema, the owner of Emporium, is no stranger to journalists.  When I walked into the building he immediately pulled out two articles about him to read.  I decided to profile the place instead of him soon after this for two reasons: in the time I had, I didn't think I could get beyond the things he's told every other journalist, and I realized I wasn't as interested in his life as I was in the actual store.  I hung around for a full shift and talked to both him and his work partner Dave Cretsinger.  I watched them do a couple of price quotes and purchases with vendors.  I spent a lot of time roaming the buildings and noting their differences and the things that stood out to me about each.

I think the place has the potential to be a great profile piece.  My current piece isn't doing it justice right now.  I posted a couple of my big questions on my draft.  In addition to those, I'm wondering if I should get some outside input on the place.  Marin suggested I talk to someone who's into antiques and familiar with both the store and the antique scene in Kalamazoo.  I think that might add an interesting dimension to the piece for my final draft.  Mostly I'm still up in the air about the intent of my piece.  I think it needs to be more focused for me to have a solid, written representation of Emporium.

Emporium: A Really Rough Draft

Here's the rough draft for my piece on Emporium, an antique store downtown.  It's intended for publication in the Kalamazoo Gazette.  It's really rough, guys.  Advanced warning.  My big questions for anyone who might be workshopping with me: 


1. As it stands, the ending cuts off really abruptly.  Any thoughts on how I should end?
2. Are my descriptions vivid enough?  Does this give a visual picture of the place?
3. I didn't write myself into the piece.  Was that a good decision or a bad decision?


“There’s a whole lot of people that wouldn’t set foot in this place,” says Bob Medema, “People who are wantin’ modern things.  They don’t come here.”  Medema owns Emporium, an antique store in downtown Kalamazoo.  The store’s large parking lot is almost empty on a Friday evening.  Out front, a large sign on a truck bed gestures to the store, which is open for customers. 
           
This is somewhat of a rare occurrence: Emporium only does business between 7 and 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 2 to 6 p.m. on weekends.  “Love to be open nights and weekends because, you see, anybody that’s got any wherewithal has work all day,” Medema says.

            His customers have ranged in age over the years.  When he first began the business forty-four years ago, younger people came in to look for original furniture.  Soon after that, an older crowd started frequenting the store.  In the past year or so, however, Medema’s seen an increase in younger people again.  “I’ve had a few musical instruments, I’ve put up some young posters, and let ‘em know that we’re adapting to young people,” he says.

Emporium occupies three former farm buildings.  Medema says people used to hatch chickens in the upstairs of the main building and used the rest of the complex to store fertilizer and feed, and to make molasses.  The property now houses an endless and overflowing supply of furniture: chairs sit on top of tables, tables rest on sideboards and various trinkets hang from the ceiling. 

Medema and his main colleague, Dave Cretsinger, can often be found in the main building when they’re not consulting furniture brought in by dealers or casual customers.  A counter near the entrance is piled high with bills, which Medema never throws out.  He shuns most technology, so the counter lacks the telltale sign of a checkout area: “Don’t have a cash register.  Never have had one,” Medema says. 

They invite customers who wander in to explore the buildings and to ask any questions they might have as they peruse the narrow aisles of the store.  The furniture that spills into the walkways lacks a specific system of organization.  Sideboards from different eras sit next to each other, decorated by ubiquitous glassware.  “Wherever we find a place to set [a piece] down,” Cretsinger says, is where it goes. 

When Medema started the store, he had $1100 worth of merchandise.  He says he originally set up pieces on display in room settings.  He put down rugs and organized the furniture carefully.  After a while the displays and the floor got dirty, and he decided not to worry about cleaning them.  The store has filled up over the years, eliminating space for displays like this.

A radio tuned to a music station provides a mixed soundtrack, a 1970s Fleetwood Mac song playing right before a top 40-sounding pop song.  When Medema and Cretsinger negotiate a purchase, their voices drift into the building, too.  They haggle a lot when people bring in pieces, critical of the types of things they’ll allow into the store.
A pair of men shows up early in the evening the shift with two light-colored wooden benches.  They tell Medema that the benches came from a church.

“These ain’t outta no church.  Don’t tell me these are out of a church,” Medema says. 
“They came with a kitchen table,” Cretsinger says, and Medema repeats it in agreement.
The men continue to insist that the benches came from a church.  They say their friend ran it, but got rid of the benches when she bought new ones.
“Well it musta been an awful poor church,” Medema says, giving in a bit.
“Yeah, it was,” says the vendor.

Medema agrees to buy the benches for a low price.  He and Cretsinger often agree to do this, even when the pieces are not very nice.  Their lower-quality items usually come from vendors they refer to as “street people.”  They consider these purchases a type of donation, helping out people in need.

Most of their pieces are made of dark wood and have a good finish.  Cretsinger says they avoid buying upholstered furniture.  Usually it requires reupholstering, which gets expensive for customers. 

The upstairs of the main building holds rows and rows of dinner-table chairs.  Medema says that people have an easier time finding tables, but often the chairs have broken.  The sets of chairs he has sell well.  He keeps them in even-numbered sets.  “I’m a nut for pairs,” he says, “Oh, I can’t tell you how much I like two.”  The odd chair confuses people; “They can’t figure out money when it comes to five chairs,” he says.

On the walls of the stairway hang suggestions of Medema’s and Cretsinger’s celebrity.  A series of newspaper clippings profile Medema himself, and others mention the store.  Thank you notes sent from local and out-of town customers cover the rest of the area.  Medema says they get lots of out-of-town customers

The other two buildings contain a similar sprawl of furniture.  None of the buildings have heat or insulation, but the other buildings don’t handle moisture as well.  One in particular has a concrete floor and ceiling, meaning it sweats humidity.  It contains furniture is not as well finished, as well as a handful of mattresses.

In the largest building, fans whir to remedy the climate situation.  “A cheap fan is wonderful.  You need air circulating,” Medema says.  Cretsinger says it helps to even out the humidity and to keep the air flowing.

This building also holds a couple of light fixtures that provide illumination to the pieces on display.  Other things hang from the ceiling as well, most notably a large model of a parrot holding a Corona bottle.  It swings between stained-glass panels, which add a touch of class to the display.

Monday, April 23, 2012

CYOA Week 5: Responses

This Must Be The Place

With the exception of PRIME, I found an overall theme of isolation in these pieces.  The three men featured in HILL, COFFER and BYUN all lived by themselves in isolated situations, whether they be on the outskirts of a city or within the city itself.  After thinking about this, I found myself missing the "why" of the pieces.  They acted as great snapshots of life, but aside from a brief mention of feeling unfulfilled the filmmakers didn't seek out more information about why these men chose to live the way they did.

I thought the music worked well most of the pieces.  With HILL, I felt like the shots and background noise did enough to establish the feeling of the piece, and the music felt a bit intrusive.  With BYUN, the earliest piece, music seemed to be really integral to the piece.  Perhaps the filmmakers strategy has changed in regards to the role of music in their pieces over the past year.  I think it sometimes served to manipulate the feelings of the listener, especially in PRIME, but it seemed okay in these pieces.  I saw them more as art than hard journalism.

Because the pieces are up on Vimeo, I'm inclined to identify the intended audience as younger people.  The pieces also used current music.  On the other hand, the people featured were middle aged or older, so that could be an audience too.  Whether or not the display platform reaches the intended audience is up in the air.

The Most Dangerous Gamer

I know nothing about video games, but I wanted to read this piece.  Part of what made the profile so fascinating is Jon Blow's take on gaming as a way to approach philosophical ideas.  The plot lines of his games differ from what I think of when I hear the words "video game," and that really drew me into the text.  The article's author, Taylor Clark, did a good job of weaving in descriptions of the game to give the reader a good look into Blow's mind.  I also thought the video feature posted online was a nice touch.

Blow has an intriguing character.  I think Clark did a good job of balancing his more offputting thoughts with his complicated background.  Blow sometimes came off as self-important and isolating--he doesn't seem to have a lot of friends, but clearly his life goal isn't to make them.  Sometimes, though, we caught a glimpse of a lonely past that could have led to his present attitudes.  I do think Clark used a bit of manipulation in presenting Blow's personality, especially as he shows more of Blow's lonely past as he moves through the story.  I pitied him, but I didn't know if I should or if Clark thought I should.

Overall I thought it was a great piece on video games.  It seems like it could appeal to a wide audience, both those who game and those who don't.  It made me really want to play Braid and The Witness.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Reading Response: Lots of Assignments

Telling True Stories

I found this much easier to read than the Franklin book from last week.  The input from various nonfiction authors made the message a much more diverse one.  Isabel Wilkerson's insights on interviewing particularly attracted my attention, because they seem like things I can apply to the upcoming profile piece assignment.  Her idea of "accelerated intimacy" made it clear that interviewing a subject involves more than formal questions and a formal conversation, something that I often have trouble doing when I interview.  

Many of the writers talked about recording important visual elements during an interview.  This seems particularly important when doing a profile piece.  I don't usually note these things because I often write news stories where they aren't essential.  Since I hope to eventually go into radio, this is an important tip all around.  When capturing audio it's often important to supplement with descriptions of where the reporter is at the time.  In general, most of the things I read in this book were things that seemed obvious when I looked at them laid out on a page, but were also things I have often not thought to do in my writing thus far.  The grey boxes scattered throughout the chapters added to this, giving differing opinions on basic concepts (using tape recorders, how to do an in-depth interview, etc.)

The American Man at Age Ten by Susan Orlean

It took me many, many paragraphs to get into this piece.  It started with a laundry list of traits about the boy in question that I couldn't help but skim over.  When Orlean did pull me in though, I was fascinated.  The story was heavy on dialogue, which is what really helped me to understand Colin and his fifth-grade world.  He said things that made me laugh  out loud.  Case in point: "Well, if you're a grown-up you'd have a car, and whenever you felt like it, you could get into your car and drive somewhere and get candy."  This as the biggest advantage to being an adult.  I've observed ten-year-old boys while working at camp, but never have I had this much of a glimpse into their thoughts.  Orlean inserted herself into the narrative, but only occasionally, which I think was a good choice on her part.  Sometimes she expressed surprise at Colin's actions, but for the most part I really felt like I got to read about the kid.

Trina and Trina by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc


I had so many mixed feelings about this piece.  It was definitely well written.  In terms of form, I liked that LeBlanc wove back and forth between present tense retellings, snippets of a year thrown together quickly and excerpts from Trina's journal.  I thought she did well with regards to giving a full picture of Trina in the best way that an outsider could do.  LeBlanc consciously inserted herself into the story, and I felt her emotions alongside her as she watched Trina constantly shape up and relapse in an endless cycle.

We talked about ethics a bit in class today (I'm writing this late, apologies).  That was my biggest hangup with the story.  It seems like LeBlanc hasn't had experience with addiction in the past, given her constant hope that Trina will recover.  It took her a long time to give up hope.  On the one hand, this could be admired.  On the other, this is the cycle of addiction.  Given that Trina had this scarring background and clear intimacy issues, I mostly felt like LeBlanc exploited her.  She reported a great story, but spending ten years with her and putting herself in the position of a friend really threw me into a moral dilemma.  I don't blame LeBlanc for abandoning Trina, but I don't think she should have put herself in a position where her detachment turned out to be synonymous with abandonment.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Profile Pitch

Emporium, an antique furniture shop, is located in downtown Kalamazoo near Bell's Brewery and Water Street Coffee.  I stopped by early in the quarter, hoping to pick up some furniture for the apartment.  While I didn't find what I was looking for, I was intrigued by the shop itself.  There are three buildings packed so tightly with furniture that one can barely walk through the aisles.  Products range in condition from well-kept, expensive dressers to dusty bookshelves.  The store only opens from 7-9pm on weekdays and from 2-6pm on weekends.  I plan to profile the man who runs the place and his business.  Things that particularly interest me:

1. How did he get into the business?
2. How is it economically viable with such short hours?
3. Where does all the furniture come from?
4. What does he do with the rest of his day?

This pitch is less complete than it should be.  I have yet to talk to the owner because I've been working Phonathon shifts during the store's open hours ever since I came up with the topic.  This weekend I intend to journey down there and chat a little bit to see if there's a good story and if the owner would be willing to do it.

Monday, April 16, 2012

CYOA Week 4: Responses

Wonder Town
Thirty years of Sonic Youth.


Sasha Frere-Jones' ability to capture music through words drew me in right away.  I had an unsuccessful go at doing music reviews while working at a radio station in Ecuador, and Frere-Jones captured everything I couldn't.  I found his choice not to mention Sonic Youth in the first paragraph surprising but successful.  He painted a great picture of grotesque rock and roll.  By the time he mentioned Sonic Youth it was a welcome break from the barrage of off-putting images he had listed.

The words Frere-Jones used to describe Sonic Youth's music almost made me hear it.  I'm not really a fan and, consequently, not that familiar with their sound.  Moaning, howling, whines--all of these words gave me a good idea of their sound.  I also appreciated the detail surrounding the band's lyrics, both in terms of the way they sing and the way that they compose their work.

I think the author did a decent job of covering the band's history and focusing on their current release.  The start was background heavy, which seemed important for those of us unfamiliar with the history of the band.  The subheading (I'm sorry, my vocab isn't up to par so I don't know if that's the technical term) implies that the band still produces music, so I knew to expect something current at the end.  I do feel like Frere-Jones focuses a bit too much on the band's past even when he starts addressing the present.  He mentions their new sound but immediately refers back to their 1980s albums, which detracts a little bit from the point.  I also thought the final paragraph could have been tied a little more tightly to the story.  It's important to note that they've become an institution, but maybe that should be mentioned earlier.  I would have liked to see the article end in talking about the album and the band's current work, not their image.

Shooting an Elephant

As a piece of creative nonfiction, I really liked this story.  I found it to have fewer journalistic elements than what we know today as narrative journalism, but that's to be expected from a pioneering piece of the genre.  I thought the metaphor of the elephant was intriguing, although at first I thought it was going to be a symbol for the people rather than a representation of imperialism.  In any case, it was interesting that George Orwell set this up as the overarching theme of his piece.

The convenience of this metaphor makes me question his credibility.  It's possible, I suppose, that the events unfolded as Orwell described them and that they just happened to be the perfect metaphor for his thoughts on imperialism.  However, it seems to me like he would have had to tweak some facts to make the story work in the way it does.  I'm hesitant to question it because I thought it was a really fascinating piece of writing that drew me in quickly and a lot of what did draw me in was the details that may not be real upon examination.

In terms of the success of the metaphor, I think Orwell took a little too long to develop it.  As I said earlier, I thought the elephant was going to be a metaphor for the colonized people.  He described it as tame but fed up with its situation, shackled but with some degree of freedom.  Both of those things for me called to mind the effects of imperialism on an oppressed group of people.  The way in which he finally comes to use the elephant as a representation of the way imperialism affects his own actions is interesting, but a bit confusing when it comes so late in the piece.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Response: Writing for Story

I found Jon Franklin's discussion about conflict and resolution very helpful.  In my own writing, I often struggle to make the story a cohesive narrative; I now realize that I don't always match the conflict to the resolution.  In my personal narrative, for example, I feel as if I focused my conflict on my peers and my resolution on myself.  I was apprehensive, however, about his idea that every story must have a resolution.  Radiolab may not function well as an example here since it's an audio podcast and not a written narrative, but the segments within each episode and the overall episodes almost never have resolutions.  If anything the listener finishes the podcast with a greater sense of conflict than that which they were originally presented, but with satisfying bits of new knowledge.  Rarely do I find myself bored by stories told through this medium despite the prevalence of resolution-less conflict.

I also appreciated Franklin's strategy for outlining.  I have not resisted outlining completely, but I usually use an extensive version of the Roman numeral outline.  Franklin's method makes much more sense to me--I hadn't thought about using a short outline that focuses on the action of each segment instead of on the beginning sentence of a paragraph.  While I think Franklin exaggerates the brilliance of his method--is every writer really going to excel using this specific outline style only?--he presents some useful ideas when it comes to narrowing down a story to its basic and necessary elements.

The stories at the beginning of the book helped to illustrate Franklin's points.  I found it useful to look at the way in which he would outline the two stories that he published so he could keep the reader engaged throughout the final product.  He printed a traditionally organized story and a saga, which helped to illustrate the differences between those two forms.  Unfortunately Franklin's ego got in my way in this section as well.  The action in "Mrs. Kelley's Monster" really drew me in, but I found the ending to be fairly unclear.  Was he trying to flash back and forth between the break room with Dr. Ducker and Mrs. Kelley's room?  I still don't think he makes it clear that she dies, instead implying that she may be on her way out but that Dr. Ducker may go in and do a second surgery if she recovers.  In this respect, I think the story is a bad example for explaining a resolution to a story's main conflict.  "The Ballad of Old Man Peters," however, made the saga outline much clearer, as it showed the ups and downs of each segment and how Franklin tied them together into one coherently focused piece.

1. Are there cases in which an author should stray from following Franklin's conflict--action--resolution model?
2. To what extent is this statement helpful: "To be of literary value a complication must, first of all, be basic."  To what extent might that limit a story?
3. Franklin says that the best stories tell of characters who change profoundly throughout the narrative.  Is this always true?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

CYOA Week 3: Responses

Emergence

I remember most Radiolab episodes, but despite the fact that my iTunes insisted I had listened to "Emergence" before, I could not recall any details.  Upon re-listening, I found it to be one of the more scattered episodes that I have heard.  The main question intrigued me: how does order come from chaos?  Jad and Robert's decision to begin with ants made sense to me, and they transitioned well between that and their subsequent discussion of cities.  The contrast between these two subjects--nature and urban landscapes--allowed them to address order and chaos as it appears both in the natural world and in a more man-made setting.

The story about stocks, however, seemed a bit off-topic to me.  The two prior sections discussed the ways in which a leader can emerge from a group and the power that a group holds when trying to solve a problem.  I understand the connection to the group aspect of the story, but I didn't see much of a relation between the stock segment and the overall question of emergence and order.  

I was also up in the air about the two other questions that the piece seemed to want to address: the potential existence of a creator and the elements of consciousness.  One of the things I love about Radiolab is that Jad and Robert apply a central question to many areas of study and, in doing so, generate more questions that are specific to these subcategories.  With this episode, however, I didn't feel like the new questions fit into the story as nicely as they usually do.  They seemed a bit to big to throw into the middle of the piece, only to be ignored for the rest of it.  Overall this did not seem as tight or fluid of a piece as other Radiolab episodes.  That being said, it was one of the earlier episodes of the show, so I think they've picked up a more solid format over the past four or five years.

Jacob's Ladder


I really enjoyed reading this article.  I'm not well-versed in the political power situation in South Africa, but I thought the article did a good job of providing necessary background.  Douglas Foster, the author, wove back and forth between present descriptions of Jacob Zuma and stories about his political past and South Africa's historical issues.  This kept my attention; just as my mind began to wander after reading several paragraphs of description, the article brought it back by explaining the economic background of the country.

I found the teaser paragraph a bit more ominous than the rest of the article.  This is probably a function of its brevity, since everything it points out is addressed in the article.  However, I was expecting Foster to portray Zuma as more of a villain than he did.  While I definitely got the sense that Zuma has a questionable history, the article did a nice job of showing the personable side of his demeanor.  I started the article wanting to support his campaign efforts, but ended it feeling like he has too much of a troubling past to be trusted as a president.

A couple of people talked about the rape issue in their responses.  I thought the way that the article addressed this was very interesting, in that Foster first passes it off as a political rumor formulated by Zuma's opponents.  Three pages later, though, he describes the incident--he reveals that Zuma did in fact sleep with a woman, and that the trial was an issue of consent.  Furthermore, Zuma didn't have a condom on hand at the time, but he went ahead with it anyway.  The way in which Foster approaches this incident fits well with the rest of the article, in that he holds off on revealing all of the troubling details of Zuma's past until later on in his narrative.  

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Writing Myself: Reflections on the Process

I rarely write about myself, even for personal reflection.  In my journals I write layers of text on every page, making my thoughts virtually unreadable after they're out.  This first assignment was a difficult one for me because I not only had to write about me, but I also chose a topic that I have been trying and failing to put into words for years.  I started out trying to write exclusively about my experience as a ten-year-old kid in the weeks following 9/11, but I realized that my real turning point in terms of analyzing this event took place in Quito when I was finally away from North America for the day.  Even after that insight, I had trouble trying to fit in the most important parts of the past-tense narrative.  I feel like the topic is so big that I can't explain it well without boring everyone with too many details, but I tried to narrow it down to important ones.  I also had a difficult time identifying my audience or pinpointing the best way to tell the story to an audience at all.

I'm not sure if I adequately described Dearborn in a way that will help readers understand my neighborhood.  I found it difficult to balance talking about the place with talking about myself and to make sure my focus didn't stray to the effects of post-9/11 America on my friends and neighbors.  My experience was different as a Christian kid of European descent because I wasn't the subject of the nation's apparent anger.  I think I still need to work out what exactly the point of my 2001 section is and to tie it in a little closer to the point of my reflection in Quito.

I also feel like I took on a pretty heavy topic, and I had a difficult time trying to just write and not sound preachy or frustrated.  I'd be interested to hear whether or not my tone is relaxed or reflective enough.  Should I use more specific examples from my fifth-grade years, or is it okay to talk about my general feelings?  I'd like to address these things in my re-write.