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Unusual Examples of Everyday Writing: A New Item Type Emerges

As many of our readers may know October 20 is the National Day on Writing. The National Day on Writing celebrates the role that writing plays in our everyday lives. A perfect holiday to create everyday writing!

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To celebrate this day, the Reading-Writing Center at Florida State University organizes writing focused events across campus to engage students in various common and uncommon writing practices. In 2016, the Reading-Writing Center set up writing activity tables where students could pick up candy and engage in a writing activity. Two of the booths were redacted poems and exquisite corpse narratives. In the redacted poetry booth, students were given black permanent markers and a wide variety of magazines and used books. Then, students were instructed to select a page and mark out words they wanted to get rid of. What would be left would be their redacted poem (check out some examples here, here, and here!). In the exquisite corpse station, students sat in front of an old fashion type writer and were instructed to read only the sentence written previously and to write one sentence building off of what they had just written. Once the page was completed they were left with a winding narraimg_9662tive (see our artifact here and here!). At both of these stations, students were asked to leave their work if they wanted them to be featured by the Reading-Writing Center. After using selected pieces, the Reading-Writing Center donated their collection of everyday writing to the Museum of Everyday Writing.

While we were thrilled to get a collection of new artifacts for our archive, we (the administrators) were faced with a challenge: how to categorize them. These works challenged how we were viewing everyday writing, because the previous artifacts tended to be nonfictional creations. The notes, letters, lists, calendars, postcards, social media posts, and flyers we had collected responded to real life situations. Additionally, no one had submitted any works of creative writing (such as poetry and narratives) to the Musendow021um, so we had not begun to conceptualize how they would fit in with the Museum. Consequently, we did not have an item type category ready to go. As such, we worked together to create the Imaginative Text item type.

The Imaginative Text item includes fictional or nonfictional creative texbbf81b75c8b1b5629aba73bf304ca2edts that are intended to be publicly distributed and circulated. It should be noted that we put particular emphasis on texts being circulated, if they’re only privately viewed they would likely be placed into the Diary and Journal item type. Therefore, this includes (but is not limited to): comics, fan fiction, poetry, personal narratives, poems, and short stories.

 

In the future we hope to continue to grow this item type so that we have a robust collection. If you have any Imaginative Texts that you would like to submit, please click here.

 

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Names Left Behind

What is it about writing your name on the nearest surface that makes people do it so often? Sidewalks are littered with little indications of the past people who have walked them. Walls of buildings, dorm rooms, cafes, even classrooms are decorated with little identifications of the people who have left their marks there. The most iconic messages left behind are those “___ was here” messages. When you are writing your name on your desk in your classroom in sharpie, you are leaving a reminder of yourself there for the future. Perhaps you’ll return one day and find the place where you left your name, wiped away by a janitor or teacher, or maybe you’ll still find it there, in that green sharpie pen you used to use, winking up at you from the wood.

Alongside, “___ was here” messages, are the famous “___ + ___” graffiti, where couples write their names or initials together. A couple might be walking hand-in-hand and spy a slab of wet cement nearby. They’ll look at one another, grin, and write their initials looped inside of a heart in the cement with a stick. One day, that cement may harden and leave their names immortalized there for passing people to see.

It is common for us, as observers, to walk down the sidewalk and see words and names written across the stone. We may glance at them, or ignore them, or stop and read them from time to time, but we generally don’t find anything out of the ordinary about their existence there. I might shrugand say, “Looks like someone took advantage of some wet cement” and go about my day. I’ll have forgotten the incident five seconds later. Even though we do it so often, we barely recognize that writing our names down on eve03c91f1b6e0e6d2d6b7dbc4e773ce026ryday places in everyday moments is an act of writing.

As artifacts at the Museum of Everyday Writing, claims such as “___ was here” or “___ + ___” represent acts of permanence, ownership and expressions of existence.

Our names are expressions of who we are. “I am ___. I was here.” Or “____ + ____. We were here.” Writing your name on a slab of cement acts as a chance of leaving a piece of yourself behind for generations to come. It’s a permanent example of life. That a person stood here, years, days, minutes before you or I did, and left behind something for us to find. This name writing is personal to us. We find significance in leaving a part of our selves behind that a stranger or anonymous person might not recognize. It’s for the enjoyment of seeing ourselves encapsulated in reality: as a figure, or figures, who once walked this path, sat at this desk, touched this space. Going further, couples are notorious for writing their names together as acts of remembrance. Jane and Erik, Nikky ❤ Alex, TG + RP, and so on. For couples, it’s a claim that they were together here, in this moment, in a relationship that may or may not la305f4c72b21a04728b37b19e4b8e7ec9st long enough for the both of them to return and find their names, scrawled together, a monument of their time here.

More than just marking presence, but writing a name down can also be an act of ownership. “This” desk was “the” desk I used in seventh grade, “this” notebook was where I used to sketch, “this” wall was a part of my dorm room my freshman year of college… and so on. Ownership is a tricky business, as friends can write, for example, “Jessica was here” on your notebook, or on your calculator, or even the glass window of your car—a stranger might come across this, or you might years later, and mistake the items in question for your friend’s property. We write our names on our papers, our homework, to state “Hey, I made this, I created this, I did this.” We want the credit. It is for the claim of ownership of a text, a space, an item.

But writing our names on surfaces in restaurants, classroom desks, sidewalks, are not always about claiming them as ours… they can be about showing that, as people, we came here, we sat here, we stepped here… Writing our names on these places… the permanence of the act marks your place in the world. It is for the act of defining our existence in time. It marks the time you spent in that space for maybe even just a fraction of a moment, or a semester of school, or a day in the sunshine taking a walk in the park. It’s a means of staking a claim: “I was here. I existed.”

We as writers, are leaving behind expressions of us as we are for the future. The people who will one day stop and read our names on the sidewalks, on the bark of a tree, on the wall of a dorm room, on the glass of a storefront… We might not understand how important writing our names down is because we do it so often and so publicly, but they are acts of everyday writing. We may forget them, but they will always be, or have been, there.

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Identity: Lost and Found 22 Years Later

By: Maryana Boatenreiter

I sat on my closet floor for hours digging through dust-filled boxes. I was searching through the past eighty years of my grandparent’s lives. Suddenly, an unusual, yellow card caught my eye in the masses of photos. I opened the card to find something I’d never expected. Finally, here I was reading her words, holding a piece of her voice in my hands.

At the Museum, we are always interested in communicating the importance of everyday writing. Unlike what we write professionally or academically, everyday writing has a personal element. It works to reflect, define, and sustain a person’s identity. What one writes tells us a bit about that person, and we can use these artifacts to learn about their past. I hadn’t realized this personally until I began digging into my family’s history, and came across this card written by my Aunt.

My Aunt Angie was an outgoing, full-spirited, woman who passed away unexpectedly in 1997. Growing up, my family told me stories about the medals she won for skiing, the horses she trained, and how she was the most daring of her three siblings. I was always told that I resembled her, and my grandparents would mistakenly call me “Angie” regularly.

You might imagine my frustration with hearing how much I resemble someone, and have so much in common with, but not being able to remember them for myself. However, once I found this card, these frustrations were soon relieved.

8e7cf67cd2258aa0da0544d4c8e4bccbMy aunt sent this card  to my grandparents Becker and Mary Ruth Boatenreiter in 1994. She was living in Atlanta, Georgia and they in Dog Island, Florida. As evident in the letter’s text, there was no special occasion for writing this card. Instead, she described how she was doing, the snowstorm her and her partner just bunkered down for, and asked questions about my grandparent’s life on the island.

Since I wasn’t even born at the time, this small piece of everyday writing has large implications in constructing an identity and voice for my Aunt. The only sources I had to understand who my aunt was came from pictures and stories from family members. As I read the her words on this card, for the first time ever, I got my own sense of what she was like. By reading the words that she chose, the questions that she asked, and the experiences that she documented–it was almost like I was listening to her. Her identity started to take shape through this card. I learned who she was by what she wrote.

Each choice that she made to construct this card necessarily represents who she was and what she wanted to say. Through diction, syntax, and choice of medium–my aunt’s identity is revealed to those that read it later on. By picking out this quirky card with vibrant colors, I’m keyed into her lighthearted outlook towards life. A piece of paper would have afforded her the same writing space, but her choice of this funky card confirms she had fun with her life.

50099a4bcfd5a7c16ff19b505754dd8eThe diction in this card illuminates how she wanted my grandparents to receive her message and what her purposes were. She writes: “Y’all have probably already read the articles, but I thought it funny that she had nothing else to write about all week but ‘Boatenreiter’” This is referring to someone who covered her accomplishments in snow skiing. This choice of words pulls me to think she was humble in nature, and didn’t see the big deal about her accomplishments.

Maybe she was short tempered too, though. She writes: “He drives me crazy, but that’s nothing new” in reference to one of her employees. She trusted my grandparents and wanted to express her frustrations with Bic, and this gives me an idea of her temperament.

The relationship she had with my grandparents is also present in her composition. After her complications with her water well, she asks “What would that be Daddy?” showing me that she trusted my papa’s advice.  After my grandparent’s visit to Atlanta, she writes “Mama you’re now the new ‘coon expert’ + Daddy is the ‘Island expert on everything’ Yall will be national celebs soon.” Her humor and southern twang speak loudly in these lines. We can tell she talks about my grandparents to her friends in addition to getting a piece of her voice. She closes the card with “Love yall lots angie” which cements my impression that she had a strong relationship with my grandparents.

To my aunt and grandparents this card was a nice way for them to keep in contact, and stay up to date after they visited her in Atlanta. But twenty-two years later, this everyday writing composition helped me construct my aunt’s identity in a way I’ve always felt I lacked. If I hadn’t stumbled upon this card, I may have only relied on what others had told me about my aunt. Her voice and who she was, in the everyday, comes to life through this card and brings me back to her last years here on earth.

Once again, everyday writing proves significant in a personal way. But, on a much larger scale, it shows how what we consider mundane actually necessarily represents our identity each time we put the pen to paper.

 

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Update: Two New Ways to Submit Artifacts!

Exciting things are happening at the Museum of Everyday Writing! As we continue to build the Museum, we are always looking for ways to expand our reach and find more artifacts. To that end, our interns have independently designed and implemented two new and exciting projects that we’d like to share with you. Each project is designed to both expand the reach of the Museum and collect a wider range of artifacts; we believe these projects will serve us well in the years to come, as offering our viewers a wider variety of artifacts can lead to more exhibits, more research, and more capacious theories of everyday writing.

Our first project comes to us from Sabrina Debrard, who has drafted and deployed a submissions page on the MoEW website. If you have previously submitted an artifact to the Museum, you may remember an involved process involving a wscreen-shot-2016-11-30-at-2-54-33-pmord document, a PDF, and email attachments. Our new submission page streamlines the process, allowing you to submit directly through our website via any computer (unfortunately, mobile submissions are unavailable at this time). To submit an artifact, you will first need to photograph or scan it to the computer you’ll be using to submit the artifact; from there, you can head to our submissions page to fill out our submission form. Once you upload your file, we still ask that you provide us with your name and email address as well as the story behind your artifact and any other relevant information you’d like to include. After a quick captcha and agreeing to our terms and conditions, your submission will be complete! We are grateful to Sabrina for making this contribution to the museum, as we feel the streamlined process will increase the likelihood that traffic to the website will also result in a submission to the MoEW.

While the Museum remains committed to being an online-only archive, intern Keno Cataby came to us with an innovative idea that will allow us to also collect “analog” submissions. His idea was simple: craft literal submission boxes and place them around the campus of Florida State University, along with an explanation of the Museum and where a student could find their submissions online. Rather than doing a scattershot assortment of boxes across campus, Keno specifically targeted the main campus library as a site that could potentially garner a wealth of submissions; as a space in which many forms of writing take place, Keno imagined that students might be more likely to drop off their doodles or ephemeral writing had originally intended to throw away. We are excited at the prospects that these submissions boxes offer the Museum of Everyday Writing, as we see them potentially opening up a new class of artifacts that emphasize two unique aspects of everyday writing: its ephemerality and its anonymity. Exploring how and what people write when it remains anonymous could provide insight into everyday writing as a whole. But beyond this new class of artifacts, we are also excited about these submission boxes because they represent the Museum beginning to forge relationships with different organizations across campus. In order to place the boxes in the library, Keno first wrote a proposal to the library office in order to receive permission to place these boxes in the space. We hope that this proposal process can be replicated in the future, both on our campus and throughout Tallahassee, so that we can collect artifacts from a wider segment of the population.

As these innovative projects from our interns show, the Museum is seeing a period of growth and development. It is through the continued work of our team and the gracious contributions of our visitors that the Museum of Everyday Writing is able to continue to grow and thrive.

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Wedding Invitations: An Everyday Writing Genre

Recently, I went through the arduous process of getting married. Now, don’t get me wrong, marrying my spouse was a wonderful decision and day. But, the intense, detailed oriented process of planning a wedding was extremely stressful and I’m glad it’s done. (I know I’m not alone in echoing this sentiment.) Throughout the process, however, one of the things that struck me was how crucial writing was to my wedding planning. I used writing to organize my thoughts, to create to-do lists, to search for appropriate vendors, and to communicate to my guests. This last item, communicating to guests, was a very involved process because of the formal nature of weddings: while everyone may know you’re getting married, people need to get a formal written invitation to attend the ceremony and reception. Knowing how important this single document was to setting the overall tone of the wedding, I spent a lot of time thinking about how and what I wanted to convey with text, color, and images. My own process of creating my wedding invitations, inspired me to reach out to other former brides and see their process for creating one of the crucial pieces to any wedding ceremony: the invitation.

From the collection of invitations I received, I realized there were two types of invitations: templated and from scratch. Each of these types of invitations went about creating the text through different means, however regardless of the type, each author exerted their preferences into the creation of their invitation. In templated invitations, authors typically began using online resources which offered a selection of invitation templates. From there, they were able to customize the phrasing, colors, and positions of the words so it accurately reflected their preferences and wedding values. For example, Erin Brock Carlson wrote:

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My husband and I met in the newspaper industry and are both design/font snobs, so picking out invitations on Vistaprint (because that was our cost-effective option) was a little bit of a trial. We used a template, for ease and to save time, though that didn’t give us exactly what we had imagined, and then customized some of the spacing, the words, and the colors. Now that I look at it again, I hate the sans-serif font I picked…Our Save the Dates were very visual and colored, so we wanted the invitation to be more traditional. Our colors were mint and gold/silver, so I wanted certain elements to pop out in an accent of mint—which is why our names and the date are in mint. In regards to wording, “Together with their families” was one of the biggest changes or deviations, in my opinion. I didn’t want to have any text there at all, since my parents are divorced and we paid for most of the wedding ourselves, so it didn’t seem quite right to do the whole “Mr. and Mrs. David and Gail Brock” thing, but my husband is very close to his family and he wanted that to have a space in the invitation. The back of our invitation was my favorite part (and I think his, too). We liked the clean, modern design of the “e + e” logo and we had that on basically everything—save the dates, the programs, etc.

As you can see for Erin’s comments, even when authors chose to work within a template, they still have a lot of freedom to customize and personalize the invitations.

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The from scratch invitations carry on the theme of personalization, however they don’t start from a traditional template. Instead, these invitations are influenced by tradition, personal preference, and knowledge regarding invitation styles. All of the authors were influenced by their previous contact with other wedding invitations, which influenced the style of the invitation. To see this more clearly, we can look at Sam Harris’s invitation. In regards to the creation of her invitation, Sam wrote:

The main themes behind our invitation were understated, inviting, and elegant. Our wedding colors were black, white, and burgundy so we decided that a black and white theme would keep the invitation clean and easy to read. We created the invite ourselves, using photoshop and various free vector sources. Using a couple existing invitations as inspiration, we tried to keep the invite simple, but hopefully professional. We bought a heavy weight cardstock and simply printed them at home. […] As for wording, the phrase “Eat, Drink, and be Married” was one we found on several existing invitations and we enjoyed the welcoming, lighthearted tone. The rest of the wording is very simple, and the fonts were hopefully evoking a somewhat classy tone, but not overly formal.

In this description of her invitation, Sam clearly points to inspiration from previously viewed invitations. Specifically, the phrase “Eat, Drink, and be Married” was recycled from previously viewed invitations and used to convey the “welcoming, lighthearted” tone of the wedding.

From the examples in the Museum it becomes clear that wedding invitations are both private and public creations used to convey both an invitation and an overall feel of the wedding. As such, invitation authors are constantly made aware of the constraints of audiences and genre as they develop their wedding invitations. From personal experience, I recognize this as a challenging task where one attempts to appease self, spouse, family, and friends–not an easy task in the slightest! (To see my own narrative on the creation of my wedding initiations, click here.) Wedding invitations then show how everyday writing can be a complex task of organization and meaning making as an author struggles to make an identity for themselves.

 

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Vintage Postcards: Curating Social Bonds

My Museum of Everyday Writing exhibit “Vintage Postcards: Curating Social Bonds” resulted from my desire to begin looking at how senders of postcards utilize the genre and its conventions, as much of the attention that digitized postcards in archives seem to receive concerns publisher and printer details (such as the front design). I was interested, then, in how, as postcards circulate, they curate social connections (no pun intended) and, as such, become sites of rhetorical interaction. In Writing on the Wall, Tom Standage discusses the importance of gossip in the history of social media: as physical grooming declined among early humans, it was supplanted by “grooming via speech” (13), or gossip, the verbal trading of information. I see something similar going in the exchange of postcards—in their role as social media, they exemplify everyday writing.

Thus I focused on the presence and use of conventions in postcards. In teaching undergraduate composition courses, I use Kyle Stedman’s “Annoying Ways that People Use Sources” to discuss conventions of academic writing; in it, he makes the point that writers break rules when they write for two reasons: either they are ignorant of the conventions of the genre, or they elect to subvert them. I wondered, then, how senders of postcards used them—were there conventions to follow, especially in the early postcards? One older example is a stereocard with a very evident horizontal orientation on the front; however, the user wrote on both the back and the front vertically as well as diagonally. The result is something more akin to a notecard than a memento: there are lists and repeated words (e.g., “Ill.”, “Illinois”) and mathematical sums (“22 [+] 25 [=] 47”). On a later, divided postcard, the sender chose to write outside the message white space—which might seem significant, but it might also speak to the flexibility of conventions.

I was also interested in the language of the postcards’ users. On the aforementioned divided postcard, the diction and syntax are informal and even, if one thinks in terms of standard written English, not “correct”—for example, “hope you will have a fine visit and fetch M along if it don’t get to cold.” Conversely, another divided postcard features diction and syntax of a distinctly more formal register. Looking at something like this—what a person has chosen to write on a postcard—comes with interpretive risks, however. Namely, there’s the risk of making meaning through misinterpretation, and this is a tantalizing aspect of working with archival materials. I have no way of knowing, for example, why the writing on the first divided postcard is less standardized—perhaps the writer had limited schooling, but perhaps the writer, knowing the recipient intimately, willfully chose to use a different register. Similarly, it’s an assumption on my part that the many notes on the stereocard were authored by the same hand—it’s very possible that the card passed through multiple hands and was not a memento used unorthodoxly, at all. Nevertheless, this uncertainty in dealing with formerly owned artifacts of everyday writing contributes positively to a certain interpretive messiness, demanding creative thinking and creative research.