Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Rhetorical Appeal to Stop Desertification

One of my tasks in my MOOC on Rhetorical Writing on Coursera this week was to watch ten minutes of the this video and post my analysis. It was a good exercise.

 In his speech on desertification, the rhetorical appeal Savory uses most successfully is logos. His logical argument stands firm on a claim, a reason, and an unstated assumption.

He claims that the “most perfect storm\tsunami” is “bearing upon” humankind who is facing a grim reality in which the world is getting hotter due to climate change that is being caused, among other factors, by desertification. He makes his point by showing evidence via images of before and after coupled with anecdotes collected through his vast experience as a scientist and researcher in the field.According to his argument, the reason why we should something about this problem, is because we are directly affected by it once we are also victims of climate change. Finally, his unstated assumption is that we are on the verge of disaster and that our civilization will perish (just like the Mayans as many others) if we do not find a way of reversing desertification.

His appeal is also logically strong because it is well supported by statistics, causal statements, and relevant examples.His statistics’ citations include the percentage of Earth (about two thirds) that is turning to desert and the amount of rain fall in Yemen and the fate of that water. His causal statements depict how land that was once covered by vegetation becomes desert. He also shows how livestock plays an important role in preventing desertification from happening.

Finally, he shares evidence that shows that, contrary to what many believe, it is large herds moving, grazing, and trampling the soil that makes vegetation come back and thus prevent desertification. Therefore, we should consider having large herds of livestock roaming in the land if we are to stop this disaster. Last but not least, I should say that the strength of his argument lies in the fact that he does not only appeal to logic, but also to ethos (his vast knowledge on the field), to pathos (his tone of voice and the life changing effect of his experience with elephants in Africa), and to kairos (he speaks at the right time, in the right place, and for the right audience).

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Other Writers and I

06-08-10 And With Heart Shaped Bruises And Late Night Kisses

                                               photo credit: Βethan via photopin cc

As I sat at my desk this morning staring at my computer screen, I was convinced one more time that I was not a born writer. In so many ways life has taught me that we have to fight many battles. So, as I crusade against the keyboard and a torrent of ideas for this essay, I was assaulted by the daemons of my fears and insecurities and many times I had the desire to take the road back to the couch and watch TV instead of writing. However, just as a farmer knows he has to plow the land if he wants to harvest something, I said to myself that if I had to engage the enemy in myself, I had to attack the dragon, rescue the princess of my self-esteem and write. Isn’t the creative process like this for everyone? Isn’t life a battle of some sort for every human being?

Growing up in a developing country is not easy and learning to write depicts it quite well. In this manner, after clashing with many other possible titles, I kept the one I had chosen for my second assignment: ”a struggling writer.” I grew up the rural area of Midwestern Brazil in a poor peasant family. Therefore, as I scavenged the archives looking for stories, I came across three narratives of struggle that resonated with me and helped me paint a portrait of my adventures with writing and education in general. The first was "White Trash Writer" by Lucinda Eby, the second "I Am an Apprehensive Writer and Blogger" by Nancy O'Kelly, and the third "My mother, My Abuser, My Inspiration" by Alison Guynes. These three stories inspired me in different ways and I will try to weave them into my saga as a writer in the lines below.

Lucinda Eby tells us in her wonderful narrative that she was raised in a “book culture.” Finding out that her father, who had another family and was an absent parent, used to come once in while with a truckload of books, made me a bit envious because I wished I had been given more books as a child. Had I had half of the books she had, would I have become a bit better with words, a better writer? I wonder. Although my father was always loving and present, this story of scarcity unites us in some way because despite the absence of books, I grew up in a sort of “educational culture” and that was “one of the pieces of luck I had.” Our family kept moving from farm to farm and my parents would only accept to work in a place that had a school nearby. Nearby, many times, meant a two-hour walk to a place in the middle of nowhere with only one instructor to teach reading and writing to about thirty kids ranging from first to fourth grade crammed into a single room. Consequently, I grew up walking to school and learned to value every step of the way. Looking back now, I guess my parents’ passion for learning was in so many ways what saved me and my four siblings not only from poverty, but from ignorance.

Therefore, as I journeyed through elementary and middle school I was mostly a reader who incorporated stories into my dreams and nightmares. In high school, my penmanship made a debut in writing book reports and compositions in which I started expressing some of my own ideas and discovered I had a voice. I once managed to craft four different versions of the same book to help some classmates that were too lazy to read or just did not know how to do it. It was in a sense that hint of invention and trickery that made me suspect that there might be some hidden happiness, a lost treasure, in writing. A fascination with words was taking me over. That was when I developed an interest for song lyrics and was mesmerized by the way musicians played with words, the poetry within songs overwhelmed me. Inspired by the beauty of song lyrics, I made some attempts at writing poetry that I compiled in a little notebook of poems I used to read to my teenage peers.

As I grew older and prepared to enter college, the door of poetry shut as the curtains of academic writing opened in front of my eyes. I came across the mandatory composition prep course that culminated with the life and death challenge of a test. Such an exam was a turning point in my life because my choice of topic for the college entrance composition (dreams) made me a psychologist instead of a journalist. Maybe I just wanted to escape writing somehow. Can we escape fate? I ask. It seems we really cannot escape destiny. When I ran away from writing about social injustice and escaped being a journalist, I fell into the trap of being a psychology major who in the first semester just felt hypnotized by the writings of Sigmund Freud (the first one I read, The Interpretation of Dreams) and realized that a great deal of psychologist work is that of writer whose narrative that requires fine writing skills.
Different from Lucinda Eby, who says her English composition classes were not very helpful, I owe a lot to my academic experience with writing once it poured content\ideas into my soul. As a psychology undergraduate student, I read a lot of books about psychology and psychoanalysis. These readings taught me the importance of considering an audience and once again helped me develop my voice. As far as writing is concerned, I don’t think I wrote anything worth remembering as an undergrad. However, in my master’s degree I was coached in writing and learned, among other things, that one needs commas for breathing and that writing drafts and revising them as much as possible helps a lot in the composing process. Due to this coaching, I was always able to complete my assignments and that made me feel proud of what I had done.
Not a born, but a runaway writer, I became a blogger and an apprehensive essayist just like Nancy. Similar to her, I sometimes feel paralyzed in front of a writing task because I also "question every word, every sentence." Just like Nancy, when crafting blog posts, I fight battles all the time to compose a bit more than snippets. Nonetheless, a little different from Nancy, I do revise what I post despite feeling also “nervous and afraid” whenever I face a writing task. The psychologist in me reminds me that anxiety when facing a challenge is expected. If writing is such a struggle, why do I insist on doing it? Why did I enroll in this course?  

Wrapping up my chronicle as a learner and a writer and reflecting on why I keep fighting this battle, I guess I can relate with Alison Guynes’ narrative. She tells us that she started reading as a cloak to escape her bipolar, abusive mother’s fits of rage. I read and study as a shield against a government that does not invest in education, a way of escaping ignorance. However, Alison goes on to tell us that her camouflage was lifted when her mother told her to write her a story because she sure had something in her “useless little head”. Her first story was a success and she wrote many more and that did not only change her mother’s mood, but made of her a fan of her writing and a friend. So, thinking about why writing is so important to me, I guess that with my blogs I try to share some of the things I have my “useful little head” with my peers. Like a child that vows to conquer his mother’s love, I try to conquer some fans and friends through writing. Composing seems to emerge from the compulsion to tell stories, teach something to my peers, and unfold the creative process within my soul. The act of composing is a process of discovery in which I reveal and hide many aspects of myself. It is a chance to contemplate my multiple identities, my many possibilities. My camouflage is lifted and put back every line, every time I copy, cut, and paste. Writing allows me to deal with my fears and reinvent myself to keep fighting the daily battles within my soul.