5 for Execution, 8 for Reflection: Casual Composing with Visual Rhetoric

Disclaimer/Statement of Self-Awareness: The image post I discuss in this entry is not, in immediate hindsight, as funny or clever as it seemed at the time. Don’t judge. We’ve all been there.

So I’m finishing up my final edit/proofread of my forthcoming College English piece. Since CE is a legitimate publication (unlike my advisor’s inbox or this blog), this job required me to break out the full MLA Handbook. Luckily as a newly minted MLA member – thanks Vancouver! – I owe one of these, both hard copy and online access. All I needed to view the guidelines onscreen as I edit was a code from the back of the hard copy.

This code, amusingly, is printed under a thin layer of foil scratch ticket-style – a-like so: photo 1

This gave me the unique and somehow appropriate feeling of winning a guide to a formatting style that I had already paid $80 for – yay! It was the opposite of ironic – exactly what I expected it to be in every way. But it was also funny (at least to me), and so I snapped a picture for my brother, the only person I know who buys scratch tickets unironically.


I’d been looking for an excuse to buy a multi-photo framing app for Instagram, so 99 cents later I was deeply engaged in 1) experimenting with ways to convey the humor and sarcasm through image sharing and 2) wasting a lotta time. What job talk? With PicFrame as my composing tool, the choices at hand were about content and quantity. Which pictures sell the joke best – and how many?

I started with just two – the front cover of the guide and the scratched-off code in the back – but it felt flat. What I wanted, I realized, what I was imagining in my head, was a type of photo post I often see on Tumblr: a series of three or more pictures where at least two are progressive zoom-ins of the same shot. (Sort of like in this meme.) Since I wanted a single post suitable for both Instagram and FB, though, that format didn’t quite fit. But it sent me checking out four-image frame layouts that created more of a “journey” through the MLA Scratch-Off Experience of 2015:

photo 4photo 3 I liked the “journey” built by the four image layouts, but without more zooming power it still fell flat. And even without going for zooming effects, four images was too many for Instagram – too busy and cramped, at least for what I wanted.  It also created a dull impression, since very similar images inevitably ended up side by side. Very “meh.”

photo 2

The image on the right is what I ultimately posted to Instagram (and Twitter?): the page that started things off, the hard copy I was instructed to find, and the scratched-off result (with quarter for added lottery ticket effect). Not a stuck landing, still not doing what I wanted it to – but there’s only so much procrastination one can justify. That said, this experience opened up a lot of in-action reflection on what (and how much) goes into even the most casual visual/digital composing.

Even though I try to complete the NM/MM assignments I give my students alongside them (if not beforehand), it really is different when you’re working towards your own specific goal – your own vision, even. Sure, “vision” is a dramatic way to refer to an Instagram post. But it’s also a better way of explaining what was going on in my head as I tried and rejected those various options. I was going for a specific effect, I had a rhetorical style (strategy?) in mind, and I kept working at it til I found something that matched. Or more accurately, until I ran out of time and forced myself to settle. Goldilocks I am not: I can’t always get it just right. Especially when I’m composing with non-native rhetoric.

I’ve got two main takeaways here:

1) I want to do more digital and MM composing of my own, both casual and professional. It’s fun for its own sake, it’s got the extra meta-fun layer, and it is so damn satisfying when you figure out how to achieve even a small part of that vision, whatever it may be. The blogging I did all summer scratched this itch pretty well for awhile, and getting back to it is a good first step – but I want to ultimately create some kind of professional artifact, and/or one that blends personal and professional (as the blog does), that lets me experience new and reflective composing processes like this one.

2) Using digital and/or visual rhetoric to achieve a goal is  different than using only(/primarily) language. And it doesn’t take a serious or large-scale goal to experience that – it’s visible in even the simplest, most casual acts of writing. Which brings into focus something I’ve been groping towards in my dissertation stuff recently – the value of casual online composing for writing instruction.

…brings it more into focus anyhow. I’m not quite finished processing what I want to say about new (“new”) rhetorics and casual writing. But it feels like a sign that working to bring that writing, that casual and often painfully superficial-looking (to both us and to them), into the classroom does have potential value. That starting small might be worth a look. That starting by showing students the rhetorical choices they’re already navigating on a daily basis, with barely a thought, might facilitate a unique opportunity for transfer and conscious composing.

To be continued in my dissertation conclusion!


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