English Language Changes in the Digital Age, and Amid the Coronavirus Outbreak.

The Digital Age of Technology has been rapidly changing throughout my entire life in education. This has brought many challenges and changes into my life, and everyday use of it in college now. With the coronavirus outbreak among us, everything that I thought would stay the same has completely changed, and here’s why.

This semester has been a huge change for me, even before the coronavirus outbreak. I have been taking difficult classes this semester, since it is time to really develop my craft and career choices. The coronavirus has helped me realize why I could never teach an online class as a college professor. Learning literature in this time of need has been difficult. Since everything has been put online it is easy to find the literature I need, but not to be able to actually read it. Back at Geneseo, we had our IDS system which made it easy to have a novel, dvd, or movie to you in just a few days. Now we have no one and nothing to help us gain these precious resources. For one class alone, I have to find three pieces of literature just for one assignment. These specific pieces have not been easy to find. But thankfully, I have been able to get them as text document, and read them using Visual Studio Code.

Visual Studio Code, has been a great addition to my technological tools. Using it in this class has helped me see the benefits it has for multiple majors to use it. This program has also helped me with my passion for learning about computers. I am able to make my own documents in VSC, with amazing features that I never knew I could do. While also using Visual Studio Code, in this class I have been able to use GitHub. GIthub has helped me find and submit multiple documents, that I did not know I had before. Using this technology this semester has helped me have easier access to English literature.

I think I have gained an overall respect for literature because of this class. Even though the coronvirus has made me connect with everyone virtually, I am able to know how to do that with ease thanks to the technology of this class. I am thankful for the multiple ways I can access and look through a text now, and makes it easier for me to adore all of the literature that comes my way now.

Takeaways from this class and the coronavirus

             Over the course of this class my perception on English as a discipline has certainly changed and my change in thought is even linked with the coronavirus in some sense. When I think of English as a discipline one of the aspects that sticks out to me as important is the way in which it is taught. When everyone first started hearing about the coronavirus I didn’t really take it all that serious. Then when we were all heading home for spring break and eventually realizing we were not coming back for the rest of the semester; the reality of it sank in. At the time I thought about how this could possibly affect the way in which teaching happens for everyone in the future. Since everyone has to learn remotely, I figured that it was possible that many could change their viewpoint on college in general and its necessity or lack of it. I thought this could possibly turn towards to making college obsolete if everyone can learn at the same level from home. After a few weeks of remote learning I realized my initial assumption was very wrong. I far underestimated the importance of being in and learning within a classroom surrounded by your fellow classmates. One takeaway from the coronavirus I have been thinking about is how much easier it is to do college work within the structure that colleges have set up.

              I think this relates to this class in an interesting way because of its focus on English specifically in the digital age. As we move towards a society that will probably become more and more intertwined with technology, we cannot lose many of the foundations that got us here. In person teaching being one of those foundations. There is something about having a specific time to show up to class and be a part of a collective of other people going through the same thing that fosters a beneficial space to learn and grow as college students.

              This class also opened my eyes to the extent of English as a discipline. I came into the class northing essentially nothing about things like coding and how it could relate to English. I only thought about coding as a way to creating software, websites, video games, or even a business intelligence analyst system. However, I didn’t make that link to how it could relate to English. In having things like the writing of Walden and putting into code seemed like it had no benefit from my own perspective when it was first introduced. As we progressed and I saw the potential for the computer to analyze certain things like the patterns of words within the book. The website that tracked things like certain word count for how many times they repeated and overall word repetition counts over the whole book helped take new things from the text we would not have otherwise. This completely changed my perspective on coding and to what it can do.

              First getting into VS code, python and such I had no experience but the coding turned into what was probably my favorite part of the class. I had heard of python and other popular coding languages. I always had some bit of an interest in learning to code but I had always put it off as something for the future. In some ways because I didn’t know anything about it I thought it might be something that would be way to technical in terms of the fact you can’t make any mistakes in typing for me to personally like it. After getting first hand experience starting out learning a bit I came to realize that coding is definitely something I can learn and thrive at. That is one thing I will always take from this class is that first introduction to something that is going to be very important to know how to do in the future. I look forward to learning a lot more about coding in the future and I will always appreciate the first look into it!

The Importance of “English” as a Discipline

We’re living through a very strange time, and now, more than ever, people are starting to consider the importance of technology, and things like “English” as a discipline, and literature. It was never something we really contemplated before. It was so easily accessible that we just accepted it for what it was. Now, however, it seems that everyone is starting to realize how important these things are for communication. If we did not have them, it would make it infinitely harder to get in touch with one another during these trying times. This is why I’m very glad I took this particular class. If I’m honest, I actually only enrolled in this course because it was the only thing available, but I was pleasantly surprised with how everything turned out.

To be honest, before we began distance learning, it was hard for me to see how anything we were learning in this course related to English at all. It seemed kind of silly to me. I thought coding had more to do with math and, though I realized technology could be beneficial when it came to things like reading and writing, I did not think it was a necessary tool to have. But now I can not stop thinking about how important coding and technology actually are to English and literature. It has made things easily accessible, as well as more widespread. Technology’s effect on the way we communicate has changed the English language forever. Not only has the internet changed the way we speak and share information, but it has changed the way we write, especially via email and text message. This is why I see literature and reading a bit differently after taking this particular course.

Though it has been difficult under our particular circumstances, I actually feel like I have managed to learn a lot in this class. The online modules have been really helpful, and though it sometimes feels impossible for me to focus on what I am doing, the journal entries that we have been posting to GitHub have been keeping me somewhat organized. It has been really fun using Visual Studio Code because seeing the end result of what you choose to code is always really neat. When I first learned how to insert pictures in code, change font styles, and switch up the font colors, I thought it was incredible. I felt so accomplished! I also enjoyed learning how to use Voyant Tools and TimelineJS. I am a very visual person, so seeing the pictures I managed to upload to my timelines was really exciting for me. In addition, Reading Thoreau was really insightful, and James Gleick’s “The Information” had a lot of interesting information about communication. The most difficult thing for me to follow along with was working in the Command Prompt, but it was not impossible. If I read through the modules carefully, I managed to succeed (most of the time). I never expected that one day I would learn anything about coding, and I am actually really proud of myself for being able to follow along with most of what we learned in this course.

One thing I learned about while learning online in this class was fluidity and fluid texts. I have never actually taken the time to think about how all literary texts are basically fluid. I mean, I have always known that works of literature go through revisions, and drafts and adaptations obviously exist, but I did not know that they were considered ‘fluid texts’. And like I said in one of the topics – this fluidity has a massive impact on each work of literature, so now, every time I sit down to read something, I think about what the work I am reading has gone through – I think about how it has shifted and changed according to the cultural situation. It is just little things like this that this class has altered for me. I am more familiar with my computer, and I understand how important technology is when it comes to “English” as a discipline.

English & The Humanities: Documentations of Change

When I first got to college, I thought English as a discipline was static. Unchanging. I had some vague notion that literary works heralded as “classic” or “canon” are worthy of these labels because scholars consider the writing to be as perfect as possible. Shakespeare’s texts have lasted centuries because, as “perfect” works, they have been deemed worthy of preservation–preservation from change. (Or, so I thought at the time.) Having always been interested in writing, I was intrigued to start learning about the secret to what makes a “classic” a “classic,” and particularly what makes it worthy of preservation as an unchanging entity. What I failed to realize then, is that even the most “perfect” work is imperfect and ever-changing.

I am now a junior, three years into the English major at SUNY Geneseo, and my views on English and the humanities have changed dramatically. I now believe that the concept of a “finished product” or “finished work” is a myth. What is more, perfection is an unattainable asymptote for which writers strive, but can never reach. Literary works are a show of a writers’ efforts toward perfection; they are not a show of the actual achievement of perfection.

Being introduced to “meta-reading” (i.e., the analysis of the drafts and revisions–both during the writing process, and post-production–that a text has undergone) is responsible for reshaping my flawed perception of English as a discipline. The concept of “fluid text,” in which a text’s meaning can be enhanced through studying the changes it went through, was a new concept to me. During my studies, I began to understand that, when a writer chooses to replace or omit certain words/phrases/passages, these edits are what make for a “fluid” text—one that does not adhere to one single “true” version. By examining drafts and revisions, we can gain insight into the writing and thinking process of writers and even their intended messages.

Learning about meta-reading has opened my eyes to the truths of literary study. My first encounter with meta-reading was during a course I took on W. B. Yeats. The class opened my eyes to the imperfect, even frantic writing process that such literary greats as Yeats underwent in order to present a supposedly “perfect” “finished work,” fit for public consumption. Yet, even after publication, I learned that it is not uncommon for writers to revise and republish their works.

In trying to understand why an author would go through the effort of revising his/her works that have already been published, I think W. B. Yeats himself summed up the possible reasons well: “Whatever changes I have made are but an attempt to express better what I thought and felt when I was a young man.” This same concept can connect to a well-known, if seemingly paradoxical, Bob Dylan lyric: “I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.”

Now, as I study the digital humanities and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, my understanding of the ever-evolving nature of literature has deepened even further. Just as Yeats underwent many drafts, revisions, and rearrangements of his writing, so too did Thoreau. I have learned that such revisions oftentimes reflect the writers’ changing views on life. In editing their writing, a writer tries to more accurately capture and represent their views. In reading different variations of authors’ texts, it becomes evident that literary choices are very important in capturing, articulating, and conveying one’s intended message.

When an author gets older and gains more life experience, it is only natural that they grow not just as a person, but as a writer, too, in their abilities to better articulate what they once thought or felt. Over time, writers (like anyone, including me and my views on English) can also change their minds about a subject and therefore feel the need to change their writing on it. The human experience itself is fluid, as anyone working towards a growth mindset knows well. It takes courage to edit and re-publish one’s work, and it similarly takes courage to admit that one’s previous opinions/writings were not as accurate as they could be, and therefore justify a need for post-production edits. In this way, fluid text versions can be treated as a way of mapping an author’s growth as an individual over the course of their lifetime experiences.

It is also worth noting that, even if a text has remained relatively unrevised for a long period of time, readers’ interpretations of that text are still ever-changing. The future affects how people perceive the documented past. New literary and/or sociocultural theories lead to new ways of interpreting early English works. And because humanity evolves in these ways, so too do the artifacts that make up the humanities.

I now know that two of the most important parts of studying English literature–and studying historical documentation of the human experience in general–are: change and imperfection. The humanities (be it English texts, artistic works, etc.) tell a story of how human experience, and interpretation of past human experience, has developed and evolved over time. It is an unfinished, imperfect, and ever-changing story that is still being written.

Writing with Machine Reading

In working with Voyant Tools, I cannot help but reflect on how machine reading can also make us better (or maybe not better, but different) writers. To start exploring how I feel about writing in conjunction with reading, I want to start with my personal experience using Voyant, separate from class. My favorite book is Moby Dick by Herman Melville, and a large part of why I like Moby Dick is Melville’s prose. So naturally, after seeing Voyant run through and categorize Walden in most used words, average sentence length, and so on, I wanted to see the same of Moby Dick. It gave me the same data as Walden and I stared at the output blankly for some time, thinking of how this could be useful. As I was looking back on the Hayles reading, I came across this quote where she says, “On the other hand, machine reading may reveal patterns overlooked in close reading” (20). Close reading allows a deeper view of the thematic elements at play within whatever we are reading, but machine reading could allow us a deeper view in the inner workings of the sentences that construct the aesthetic patina. This is where I see real affordance in machine reading’s contribution towards our ability to write differently. I can analyze Moby Dick using Voyant, find the words that are used most, and begin to use those same words in my writing, effectively starting to build up the same aesthetic mood Melville is constructing.

However, there are limits to this kind of use. First, Voyant does not have the kind of capabilities (or I don’t know how to use the program to its fullest extent) to enact the kind of immersion that I want. I cannot see how sentences are structured in intricate detail, how many clauses there are, how sentence length varies i.e. if long sentences are generally followed by short ones or if short/long sentences are used only in specific contexts following specific words. Moreover, there is a limitation in the programs ability to read how passive and active voice is deployed. Extending beyond technological limitations (or again, personal ones), this type of writing seems to me either for the student or the satirist. For the student, I think of the story told wherein Hunter S Thompson wrote out The Great Gatsby to learn what great writing feels like. Now, instead of having to merely type out a story, you could view the data from Voyant and imitate the style with your own story. It affords a level of creativity while still feeling like you are under the tutelage of a canonized writer. For the satirist (or postmodernist maybe), the tool affords a new depth to the writing of the people you want to satirize. But for someone who eventually wants to create a truly original work, the tools of Voyant will become less and less useful.

The last thing I want to touch on is about a website that imports some of the ideas that I have been tracking, and it is one that ‘reads’ your writing so that it may compare you to an author (for those interested, the website is iwl.me). The website also brings up Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence for me, in which his main theory is that for authors to rise above their influences, they must misread or misinterpret their predecessors. By using a website like iwl.me (which is right now, a poor iteration of what I would like), one could potentially track the aesthetic framework that they have drawn the most influence from. The potential writer could quickly pinpoint who they sound the most like, and purposefully subvert their own language, as well as their predecessor, to not have different ideas than their influences, but sound different as well.

Machine reading can not just help us understand texts better, but it can help us write better as well, not only by allowing us to run our favorite texts and the authors who influence us the most through text analysis tools so that we can see how they write and borrow the broad linguistic patterns we like. For tools that compare you to authors, and this use of text analysis tools would broadly not be for the student or satirist, we could find who we write like and subvert them by viewing how our writing relies on them. This may seem contradictory to my view of text analysis as edifying, but it is well known that we have to stand on the shoulders of giants first to create truly great works.

Changing Perspectives on English

Over the duration of this Digital Humanities course so far, the way I view English as a language and subject, literature, and reading have all changed in different ways when I compare my new perspective to past experiences I have had with these concepts. I used to only see English for reading and writing it. However, the inclusion of Humanities in this English course taught me that there is much more to English than just reading poetry or prose and writing essays based on analysis. Although there are educational benefits to these types of English classes, it is more relatable to apply the concepts of the Humanities in a digital form as this relates more to the world we live in currently.

I have learned that annotating is a significant part of reading and writing. It helps to keep track of your thoughts, ideas, questions, and connections to the text. Something that Digital Humanities has contributed to the way I go about doing this is by using an online journal to organize the things I have learned throughout the course and ideas I have about what I am reading in the various texts. It has been helpful to learn how to use VS Code and go about keeping all of my journals in a folder that I could later submit and share with others on GitHub, which is another platform I learned how to use and push files to. This very blog post is a new experience for me as I have never used this type of platform to organize my thoughts surrounding these new considerations of the Humanities and share them with my peers.

In terms of literature, I only wrote essays and research papers on what I read in my previous English classes. After taking ENGL 340, I know there is a greater variety of ways to analyze what I read including journals, timelines, and examining the reoccurrence of words in a text in order to decide which words are significant and which are stop words. It was also different to look at various versions of books like we did with Walden. A lot of times, we don’t consider anything other than the book we are reading, but there is so much more to the process of writing than the published book in our hands. There is a long process of adding new ideas and narrowing down or taking things out that may not belong or may not pertain the the interests of readers. It was a change to consider just how different one version of a book can be from another and to think about the reasons each change might be. I learned that literature can incorporate Humanities and the ways our lives have changed over time based on technology, communication, what we prioritize, etc.

This class opened my eyes to more genres of literature outside of what I typically read. My other English classes involve reading 18th-century English literature and African novels, folklore, and even art as this is also a form of literature. The readings for this class have very different content than books like “The Information” and “Walden” do as there is less emphasis on the plot and literary elements, with more of a focus on the concepts, history, and the way the ideas about technology and the humanities make you think about your own life and experiences. The books read in ENGL 340 gave me a new perspective on what literature can ‘be’ as what “qualifies” can often be misread of undermined. Although not all parts of the course were based on reading and writing, we still used concepts of studying English and using resources like our own technology (computers) to share our ideas and consider our individual thoughts about humanity, technology, and how this has developed over the course of history.

As the entire world is in a unique situation with the threat of COVID-19, this course has had even more of an impact on my view of the world around me, especially being a college student learning remotely. It has caused me to reflect on the impact of technology on my life and how different things are when it comes to staying connected when you are being asked to stay away from them to prevent the spread of the virus. The way news and information has been shared regarding the coronavirus has also changed the way I see technology and the concepts involved with the Humanities. I will never be able to view life the same as I did before living through this pandemic, but this doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Instead, I can remember this time of struggle as a learning experience to influence how I continue to live my life and interact with those around me, as well as how I consider what I have to appreciate about what resources I have to get me through such a difficult and trying time.

The Unpermanence of the Digital Age

This class has shifted how I understand the permanence of text. I find this true in two senses: the permanence of the digital age and the permanence of the final copy.

Throughout Gleick, I’ve learned how the rise and fall of different technologies has led to the permanence of information, especially English texts. Even the smallest details of how we write are governed by rules and technologies that have come before us. Previously, I hadn’t given much thought as to how our spelling and understandings of words is cemented today. In the past, without the printed and published text like dictionaries, this was impossible. When reading older texts in previous classes, I was struck by how inconsistent spelling was, even in the same text. With no one standard of spelling, there was a lack of consistency. Even the concept of spelling, “the idea that each word, when written, should take a particular predetermined form of letters,” was alien to people of the past (Gleick 53). According to Gleick, one of the earliest attempts at a dictionary was A Table Alphabeticall in 1604 by Robert Cawdrey who attempted to write a collection of words and their meanings to his best understanding. However, his definitions, such as influence meaning “‘a flowing in,’” largely don’t stand up today (55). I have come to learn that with the rise and fall of technologies, whether it be in the form of a dictionary or the first Macintosh, how we interpret the English language and fashion it together in text has evolved.

Gleick states, “So fleeting was speech that the rare phenomenon of the echo, a sound heard once and then again, seemed a sort of magic” (31). We are surrounded by echoes in our world today. Every book we choose to read, whether a tattered copy in our hands or a digital transcription, is an echo from those long before us and their thoughts. Technology has offered a permanence to words that was once inconceivable. The ability to write down information gave speech a life that could out date its orator. The printing press and wide spread publication of books gave the information they housed a permanence for as long as their pages could weather. With the conception of the digital world, texts and their information has a newfound permanency. As long as people can access the web or download copies of their own, texts from even centuries ago are read and shared with a larger audience than ever before. Digital Thoreau has given a new permanency to the work of Thoreau. It has modernized it so that his work can be discussed and shared in a vital community where people from across the globe can have conversations about his meaning and intent.

As the digital era has given a new permanence to the published editions we are accustomed to, they have also given us broad access to early drafts that usually a select and private audience would be privy to. Ironically, the digital age has lessened the permanence of the final versions as drafts are accessible and sometimes even preferable. The ‘permanent’ version we may read is no more permanent than the drafts that came before it. For instance, when examining the different versions of Emily Dickinson’s “Faith is a fine invention,” there is a clear contrast between the original work and the favored published versions. While the shifts are subtle, they change the meaning of the text. To illustrate, the published version changes the line from “Gentlemen can see” to “Gentlemen who see.” The transition from those “can” to those “who” do makes the poem apply to a more selective group. Was this Dickinson’s true intention? Would she have made this edit? Both we and the publisher are unable to answer these questions, but I have learned that as readers, we are able to examine the drafts and see into the author’s true intention and craft.

When reading a published book, I would consider it as its permanent copy. Yet, examining fluid texts like Dickinson’s has exposed that the published text we consider to be ‘permanent’ or ‘final’ may not be the final words of the author. Even with the potential of further editions, I would give little thought to the drafts and revisions that spanned before the ‘completed’ copy that I held in my hands. This was especially true to classics like Walden or other works by Thoreau. I was first introduced to transcendentalism by my junior year English teacher. He presented their work as a concrete and revered work of literature. These texts were permanent fixtures in the halls of best American works. In our class, through the use of technology, I realized that works like Walden are not as permanent as they may appear to be. When using Voyant Tools in my group, we found the shocking dearth of the mention of women in Walden. Most of his references are also largely ethnocentric or with a Western lens. Using technology to analyze works has enabled me to delve deeper behind the pages than I would’ve ever previously considered.

When examining the fluid text version of Walden, I chose to focus on “Solitude.” I was able to see drafts that perhaps Thoreau never thought would see the light today, but they offered rich insight into his artistic choices as a writer, such as shifting “the whippoorwill sings” to “the note of the whippoorwill is borne on the rippling wind from over the water.” Changes like this one make sense as they add effect to the reader’s experience, but in other sections where he’s omitted information one would wonder why he made such a decision. Inspecting the fluid text version of Walden subverts some of my perceived permanency of the final version of Walden like that which one would peruse on Digital Thoreau. While the digital age gives a new form of permanence to the work of Thoreau, it also undermines it. By reviewing fluid texts, especially of texts regarded as classics, one is able to see that no work is set in stone and the reader may even find themselves preferring choices the author decided to omit from the later drafts. Fluid text versions peel back the layers of the final copy and expose the evolution of an author and/or publisher to reach the final copy we accept today. Texts are no longer bound by their existing physical copies — they can be replicated and produced boundlessly across the web. By examining fluid texts like Walden, I have come to understand that while digital technology has made texts more permanent than ever before, it has also undercut their permanency by giving reader’s a inside look at the author’s thoughts. The ‘final’ version we once cemented has now become as permanent as the first scribbled draft.

New Things To Consider

I feel as though I have always been drawn to the subject of English in school. I connected more with my English teachers than any others, even going out of my way to take 3 different classes with one of my favorites in high school. Although I didn’t decide English was what I wanted to major in until relatively late, the interest I’ve had in it has never floundered. However, throughout my academic career, there have been multiple times where I felt that I was only maintaining my interest rather than building it. I see English as a very multidimensional subject, which can be just as overwhelming as it is interesting. This semester will add to the many before that have given me a new dimension of the subject to consider in the future. I took this class because I knew I hadn’t taken a class like it before. Often when I take a new English class I find myself comparing it to my 11th grade AP literature course. It was challenging, but for good reason. I undoubtedly left that class with a completely reformed view on English. I’m not sure whether it was my teacher, the material he taught, or both, but my expectations were definitely set high.

A concept that has added a new dimension to my view of English from this semester in particular is that of recycled ideas. Similarly, I always find myself thinking about how much music is in the world and how so many songs sound alike because they’re all made of the same recycled notes. I never considered that when this concept is applied to English, it doesn’t really make sense. A quote from Mark Twain reads: “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations”. Aren’t the “new” and curious combinations creating something new? If not, would an idea involving a new and never before seen invention or concept be considered new in at least some way? I never even began to consider these things before and they are relevant to English in so many ways. The idea of recycled thoughts closely relates to the second thing that I now think about; the concept of bias being behind possibly everything and every idea. Even though there are no new ideas, who’s to say there aren’t new biases that can be applied to the ideas by every person who holds them. One of the most important things I’ve been taught while studying English is to be aware that everyone is biased and it sometimes will greatly influence what they say. This way of thinking reminds me of other humanities such as sociology. In a way, this class has further enforced the bond between the humanities in my mind.

Although I don’t expect to have an English reawakening like I did in 11th grade AP every time I take a new class, I do attempt to get something out of it that I can bring with me to the next. So far, there have been few English classes I’ve taken that haven’t given me new things to consider when studying English in the future.

My Final Reflection

I came into the English minor knowing that I loved learning about grammar, and that I also enjoyed writing for the school newspaper. I have been writing for the school newspaper since I was in middle school. My writing feels more natural when I write articles and it is less stressful and time-consuming.  On the other hand, I strongly dislike creative writing. I do not have that crafty mindset, and quite frankly, I feel irritated each time I need to write a thought-provoking essay or poem. These crafty writing formats take too much time and also require a lot of skill. 

Since I am an English minor, I have taken various courses in my time at Geneseo thus far; however, only two of them have led me to feel satisfaction. This satisfaction, this great feeling, has occurred twice for me now because I went into a class feeling unconfident in my abilities as an English student and also disconnected to literature. This disconnection was like being stuck in a cocoon; I had to work hard and progress in order to emerge as a butterfly. 

I felt this satisfaction for the first time in Dr. McCoy’s English 203 class last semester as I realized mid-semester that I was becoming a stronger writer. She encouraged me to become the best version of myself as both a writer and student, and she did so successfully to the point where I eagerly completed our blog post assignments both in and out of class. 

Aside from Dr. McCoy’s class, I also experienced this feeling of achievement as a student in our English 340 Digital Humanities class this past semester. I came into this class having absolutely no technological skills, and gradually emerged from my cocoon. 

While still in my cocoon at the beginning of the semester, I felt totally lost in this class. I was constantly raising my hand to ask for help, because I was so unsure of how to use the different digital platforms we were learning about as a class. 

For example, a platform like GitHub, made absolutely no sense to me. I had no idea how to upload a journal file from my computer to this website, partly because I never took the time to thoroughly understand how to use the different commands. My skills in the class were imperfect. 

While still lost and in my little cocoon, I struggled to understand the uses of Visual Studio Code. I would somehow open what felt like 80 new journal files at once, all accidentally. I was just copying down the functions I saw on the projector screen in class, not actually understanding anything I was typing into my file. There were far more digital elements to this course than I initially expected, as funny as that sounds. 

Admittedly, my skills from the beginning to the midpoint of the semester were imperfect. While learning both in and out of class, I tried to work on my own skills as both a student and writer in order to strengthen my imperfections and emerge from my habitat. 

In the midst of trying to hone my own skills, I realized something interesting as I completed a recent Walden assignment. For this assignment, each of us had to compare different versions of Henry David Thoreau’s manuscript of Walden. Thoreau went through several revisions of this manuscript, and he was always willing to make adjustments to improve his work. From my own perspective, it can be said that at one point, Thoreau was in his own cocoon and was trying to strengthen his own imperfections. The beauty is that Thoreau both strengthened his writing and emerged into a butterfly, and that even through his several edits, he continued to preserve the intended meaning of his words. 

From reflecting on Thoreau’s progress, I made a strange observation. While this pandemic has been awful, I have had to become more independent as both a student and writer, which has given me time to work on my imperfections, just like Thoreau worked on his. 

With the time I have now at home as well as with how accountable I am to do work efficiently and, on a deadline, I realize that I have emerged into my own butterfly. I no longer need help uploading files to GitHub. I used to be scared of uploading files just because I had no clue what I was doing. Now, though, I have strengthened my weaknesses through the practice of using commands. Additionally, as for using Visual Studio Code, I no longer create what feels like a million journal files at once. I understand the commands I input into my journal file, for the most part, and I definitely feel like I have a greater grasp over the use of the Visual Studio Code application. Even though my skills are nowhere near perfect, I have definitely progressed. 

The perspective I gained as a result of being in this class led me to realize that no writer is perfect; practice makes perfect. There are always modifications I can make to hone my own skills and to learn how to use peculiar websites and applications. The only way to progress is through practice. After all, Thoreau did not create one version of his manuscript and call it quits. I do not hide away from GitHub or Visual Studio Code anymore. This growth is because I took the time to progress and work on my own abilities, and I am still making progress too. I am not nearly close to perfect, and neither are my skills as an English student in this class. But I am proud of myself for emerging from my cocoon into my own butterfly, and for developing a closer connection between myself and this discipline.

Weaving Kaleidoscopes

I cannot claim that taking English 340, or “Digital Humanities,” had some profound impact on my life. That would be nonsense, and a very poor attempt at obsequiousness. That is the dream, yes, of teaching some course that truly changes the course of a student’s life? Or, at the very least, one hopes to touch them in some way, to change their worldview, to reach the very essence of their being. At least, that is a musing from a future teacher.

I could give tautologies about how every action causes change in us all, and they would certainly be true. Their level of usefulness is more dubious, but they would be accurate. It is true to say that we are the product of our every moment of being, and the experiences that lie therein. Certainly, humans do not change simply with a snap, with a large, notable action. Rather, it is all the tiny, fractured pieces that one must piece together to attempt to understand a human being, be that another or oneself. Unfortunately, humans are more like kaleidoscopes, beautiful in their individual parts and incomprehensible when trying to force their pieces together.

Perhaps that is what learning is, hm? Attempting to piece together shards of shattered glass. Sometimes one gets cut, and certainly the pieces are not all there, but finding how they fit together, that journey, is what one can hope to strive for in life.

Of course, I have a Camusian bent, and I recognise full well the impossibility of attempting to complete a puzzle with only a fraction of the pieces. It is that desire to put together the few clumps of interconnected pieces into a larger tapestry that creates the absurd. But Camus’ solution is to accept the absurd and carry on, and so we shall and so we must.

What is literature, then? It is the art of weaving, I would say. There is not enough thread to make a bolt of cloth, so first the writer must spin their own. Having spun the thread of their mind, they may weave the cloth. But weaving is not always a simple task. The difficulty, as it often is, is the quality of the loom. Is it a loom millennia old, or is it one powered and industrial? Or, rather, is the device modern? To say another way, must one tread new paths, or does one simply follow well-worn trails?

Back to the spinning. Thread comes not from ether, but is instead corporeal. So, how is more spun? Well, to spin thread, one needs material, be that silk or cotton or wool. Wool is the author’s trade, well grown by their minds’ sheep, so long as one is wise enough to shear. Wool can come from brilliant fantasies or from exotic travels or from extraordinary experiences. Though, sometimes, one best enjoys the wool obtained from the loons on the lake or the beans in the ground.

For some, that sheared wool becomes a nest for the creatures all around. This can fill one with the gossips and transience and impactful knowledge of society. Or, sometimes, the wool is best nested in by the woodchucks and the sparrows and the drumming of the rain. Being alone with thoughts leaves much time for shearing. And, certainly, the more one can shear, the more one can spin and the more nests can be made.

So, what did I learn in this class, hm? I think the coronavirus and Walden both granted me appreciation of the loons on the lake, the sparrows in the tree, the rain from above, and the peace that can bring.