All posts by niveswrites

Why am I so sappy!? I hate goodbyes…

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This last blog post is supposed to be a final reflection on what I’ve learned from this retreat and from all of you during our short time together. If you have read most of my past blog posts I have written an ode to all of you in almost every single one. So forgive me if I repeat myself. Again THANK YOU and a big VIRTUAL HUG to each and every one of you. Even for those who were not as out spoken or vocal during the retreat, I still feel you and hear you. Your unspoken words will be spoken through your work. To those who were courageous to share their thoughts and reflections, I hung on to every single word. Thank you for trusting me and sharing your stories with me. I also would like to say yet again, THANK YOU for embracing my memoir. Your excited exclamations your touching facial expressions and kind feedback after I read excerpts, made me feel ALIVE!

It helped reinforce the fact that I’m heading in the right direction for my final thesis project. It also helped to solidify that after all the trials and tribulations in my life, I’m right here here, where I’m meant to be. That’s a big deal because I was very unsure of myself, of my journey and my abilities as a writer. I had many doubts creeping in as to what my thesis project would be leading up to my final two semesters in this program. But thanks to all of you and this amazing retreat I found the answer! Phew! Insert exhale here! I honestly don’t have enough words to even begin to express how much Dr. Zamora means to me personally and what she means to the entire Kean family. She is a truly remarkable woman. Not only in her professional and personal life but just as an intelligent, humble, kind hearted, compassionate, empathetic and overall amazing human being. I swear when I look at her, learn from her and work beside her it’s like I want to shout: #GOALS #BOSSLADY #BLESSED.

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Lastly I’ll wrap up my final blog post with sharing some of my write for the day responses. I can’t believe this is the last one! I got into such a flow with these! I thrive on routine. So I plan to continue to carve out a little bit of time in my busy days ahead to sit down, take a breather and write my little heart out! I think we can all use a little bit of that especially during these quarantine blues. Writing is therapy, writing is healing, writing leads to new discoveries and passions. I also remember what Mary Kate wrote in one of her blogs that writing makes us vulnerable. That’s so profound and so true, it’s not easy to let ourselves be so vulnerable and raw. But we need to allow ourselves to be fragile, and emotionally open in order to really grow and blossom as a person and as a writer. That’s easier said then done but I know we can and will all get there eventually. As far as my writing beyond this retreat what my main focus will be is revising and adding on to my memoir. I’m in twenty eight pages deep so far. I will begin to break it down into actual chapters, which I have yet to do and will begin thinking of titles for each. I’m also thrilled I got such positive feedback on my title: The Seashell. That’s why I added this cute GIF below of Moana with a seashell.

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I also need to research and read more about the memoir genre and see how I can improve in particular my dialogue, scenes and most of all the pacing throughout my story. I learned that pace is very important when writing a memoir, and so far in the process of writing mine I can see why it matters. I wish I had the time to read more aspiring memoirs like we did in our spring class. I will try my best to do that, the more inspiration I can get from others is a benefit to me and my project. As far as where and when I plan to write beyond the retreat, well the WHEN will be in between Summer II class and in between work and my full time Fall class load. As far as WHERE most likely my backyard. Where I enjoy to sit, watch and listen to nature. I watch the birds excitedly gather around the new bird feed house I bought for them. Carefully watching them happily play, joyfully splashing away in the bird bath. I don’t know why but watching them dance and frolic makes me so very happy, it’s a lovely distraction. Well guys, this isn’t goodbye it’s see you later. Take care. Xo.

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Reflections on Day 7…

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Oh no say it ain’t so only one more day left!? It saddens me but I know all good things must come to an end. Nothing lasts forever, maybe that’s as it should be. Sometimes I wonder and contemplate how different life would be if we knew the exact day we would leave this earth? How much more productive would we be? Would we chase our dreams harder? Accomplish more goals faster? Hug and kiss our loved ones just a bit longer? Maybe we would take more risks! Who knows? Sometimes I wonder, but quickly shake the thoughts from my mind. I’ll now share some of my write for the day responses with you all. The first prompt asks the question: Write a list of what you urgently need answers to. Well the truth with living with anxiety and OCD is that we learn through a lot of blood, sweat and tears (and lots of therapy)that there is NO REAL URGENCY. A specific and debilitating symptom of the disorder is this feeling of urgency. Your mind plays tricks on you and toys with your logic and reason, by consuming you with unrelenting anxiety and discomfort until you give in. Give in to whatever urgent thought, action or feeling you have or believe you must perform in order to find relief.

So I have to say for me personally the answer is that I have NO urgent questions that need to be answered. I try my best to live day by day, moment to moment. It took me years of trials and tribulations to figure that out. But once I began to surrender and let go, which I know is a reoccurring theme in many of my blogs, I was able to find more inner peace, self love and stability. All the things I had always prayed for. I’m far from enlightened trust me. I can’t even go into yoga without getting annoyed that my poses are just not right. Ugh isn’t the point to relax, stretch and become one with yourself? Yeah ok, not happening! So see I’m still a work in progress. But I’m getting there, baby steps! The second question that was asked for write for the day was: What inspires me? That’s a thoughtful question. What inspires me most is my struggles, my triumphs, my fears, my hopes and my dreams. My family also plays a big role in my inspiration and aspirations. Growing up in an Italian immigrant, first generation household learning about the tough tales and struggles of my parent’s immigrant experience first hand is nothing short of inspiring. You can’t help but want to fight and fight hard for a better life and future. My older brother and I made sure that my parents struggles were for the good of our entire family and that all they sacrificed for us was well worth it. We both hope and pray that we made them proud, and achieved the American Dream.

Lastly I’ll close my blog with a reflection on today’s author’s chair. I was filled with fears and insecurities about sharing my work. As I’ve mentioned before this is a true story, a story about me. Having to share such personal details about such a dark time in my life was difficult to say the least. My own Mother was even hesitant for me to read it aloud to all of you. I was hurt when she first admitted that to me. Was she ashamed of me I wondered? But I soon realized that it’s still hard for her all these years later to come to terms with my complex mental illness and more so the tough journey she saw me go through. That is what effects her the most, seeing her youngest daughter and best friend in so much agonizing pain over the years. She felt helpless, crying to me countless times that she would trade places with me in a heartbeat. A Mother’s love is so very strong. I forgive my Mother for not always understanding, or for not saying the right things in the moments that I needed it most. Mental illness was a taboo topic for my Mother’s generation, the baby boomer generation. She even openly admitted to me that she suffered some mild to moderate postpartum depression when she had my older brother in 1974 at the age of 23. She was paralyzed with fear, sometimes afraid to take him out of his crib. She had no one to turn to. Not my Dad, not her own Mother, her siblings were no help. There was no therapist at her disposal. I was heartbroken when she admitted this to me. I was old enough to understand how terrifying and lonely that must have been for her. As a grown adult woman now I empathize more with my Mother. She’s not just Mom she’s a human being with her own flaws, fears and insecurities. Learning to forgive her has helped me heal and move on with my life. Her sharing her struggles with me about her own anxiety brought us even closer. Now if only I can figure out how to get her off my back about my weight!? Hmm maybe one day I mean miracles do happen.

Shifting gears now, a big final THANK YOU and VIRTUAL HUG to all of you for being so kind, warm and loving to my memoir reading today. Thank you for accepting me and my story. Thank you for caring. I’m grateful and blessed to have had the opportunity to have met you all. I’m a better person for it. Years ago I never envisioned myself writing a memoir about these struggles of mine. I’m excited to say I’ve come so far and now I’m able to proudly tell my tale with no shame, guilt or regrets. Lastly, I want to remind others that mental illness has no face, no particular look to it. Mental illness is insidious and shows no bias towards race, religion, age, gender or socioeconomic background. It manifests itself in so many ways. People close to you could be suffering and you may never know by just looking at them on the outside. That’s why it’s important to be aware and take the time to educate yourself about mental illness and what it really encompasses and in what ways it effects us all. As a society, as a nation and as human beings on this tough journey of life. Thanks again for another amazing day! See you all tomorrow. Xo

Reflections on Day 6…

Day 6 of the retreat has proved to be yet another day filled with inspiration and hope. I was able to exhale deeply and finally read some of my memoir to my amazing group members! They were so warm and genuine in their responses. I feel rejuvenated and all the insecurities I felt have melted away. Thanks again to the amazing women in my group including Dr. Zamora for being so kind, generous and loving. I’m less afraid and hesitant now to share more of myself thanks to you all. I have to say listening to all your amazing projects was also a wonderful experience. Like I mentioned in one of my past blog posts I believe that listening and hearing someone is a true skill. So I intently listened to and heard all your powerful stories and projects that are in progress. I was amazed at the talent, it was so emotional that we all found ourselves in tears. I’m excited to see this writing program flourish with new fresh faces and such diverse and beautiful voices. It’s exactly what we need! I’m learning so much about myself from all of you, and it’s comforting to know that many of you have shared some of the same struggles as me. It’s true when they say you never really know what another person has gone through, until you hear their story. It makes me feel less alone, more hopeful and I feel a stronger sense of FAITH that everything will be okay. Well I guess as Dr. Zamora would say that’s my shout outs of the day! Bravo to all of you! Thanks for inspiring me and helping me reinforce that I’m heading in the right direction with my thesis project. The Seashell is truly a passion project for me and it means so much to me that you embraced it so warmly.

It was interesting after I read a portion of my memoir to my group I found myself thinking a lot about my past and regrets. Sometimes I wonder that if I had made different choices along the way that my life could be so very different right now. Like if I just didn’t choose to stay with that crappy guy for so many years, or if I never dropped out of college, if I would have moved out of state, or why didn’t I keep around the nice guy who treated me well but had a weird hairline? I could be married right now and off of Bumble! Oh vey why me?! All these questions swirled through my mind in a blur. I actually found myself laying my head back, closing my eyes trying to stop the spinning. The truth is I used to second guess myself a lot more in my 20’s. I was plagued with this idea of past regrets and what that means for my life. Luckily now in my late 30’s finally I’ve come to realize that I’m here, exactly where I’m supposed to be, where I’m meant to be, at this exact moment in my life. Although I’m currently mending a slightly broken heart from yet again another failed “almost” relationship with someone I saw real potential with, (he was so dreamy) I realize even through the disappointment I currently feel and the harsh realization and inner dialogue that washes over me saying: “Hey times running out, this is it kid, you might be doing life solo.” Even through those negatives thoughts and emotions, I still feel empowered knowing that I’m right here, right now, where I’m supposed to be.

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Even in this shitty, heartbroken, less ideal state of mind that I find myself in today, I’m here. Wow the only cool thing about getting old and pushing 40 is more self awareness and way less self loathing! Cool! I think I felt compelled to write this in my blog post and share it with you all because it shows me the power of free writing. I found myself doing the write for the day exercises and it led me to think about my past, my mistakes, regrets and where I am today despite all of it. I also think sharing part of my memoir with my group also awakened a lot of old emotional baggage and complex feelings within me. I even sometimes wondered if my past mistakes made my mental illness worse? Was it all my fault, my doing? But through a lot of self reflection, deep introspection, through my love of expressive writing and many more healthy outlets I’ve explored over the years, I don’t dwell on my past and all the crappy mistakes I made. Sure it might eat me up a bit inside but I’m only human. I forgive myself for it and I’m much more gentle with myself then I ever was before. I find myself being able to embrace it all and at the same time release it all. Out into the universe. Again, writing wow what a powerful instrument for self love and change. I thank God everyday he gave me the gift and love of writing. I think he secretly knew what a hot mess I would be and decided to cut me a break, so he gave me the talent and skill to write and release all my inner pain and strife! I always knew I had a guardian angel watching over me, I feel it. God is good. Oh and don’t forget it always helps to have a little FAITH! Thanks for that Jada. I posted two of my favorite musical artists below just in case you wanted to take a listen! See you all tomorrow! Xo.

Day 5 Reflections…

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I love the above quote. It resonates with me because I believe that no matter what we work on or create whether it be through art or through our writing, it’s never fully finished. Is it? I think our projects are always evolving and we have the opportunity to go back and revise it and make it anew. I think this quote above also applies to life itself. Our are life stories ever finished? I would like to think of myself as a great work of art, which most definitely isn’t near anywhere finished. I suppose so when we pass on, but in the midst of our lives we are constantly going through rebirths and reincarnations of ourselves. Different stages in our lives require certain adjustments to be made and new ways of connecting to ourselves and the world around us. If I look back on my 20’s ( total hot mess) I’m a completely different woman than I am today pushing almost 40 (gasp). Well not 100% different, I’m still Nives, a mix of hot mess and almost kinda getting it. I just know a lot more crap then I did back then, although even today I still mess up and make some of the same mistakes but now I’m able to forgive myself more easily. So even in terms of that I realize my life story is never really finished and it will continue on and manifest itself in different ways. One day my life story ultimately will be finished, that’s inevitable, nothing lasts forever. But I hope I leave behind a little bit of myself that reflects kindness, compassion, love and strength.

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I’ll now share some of my write for the day insights like I normally do in each of my blog posts. What is important to me and my writing process as we begin week 2? For me the most important thing is building up enough courage to share excerpts of my deeply personal, and at times troubling memoir: The Seashell. In some ways I wish I wrote a fictional tale it would make this process of sharing less nerve wracking. But it forces me out of my comfort zone and if I learned anything through my battles is that the uncomfortable times, the most harrowing of times, is what gives you real power and what makes you become more resilient and able to handle what life throws at you. I had to learn to sit with my discomfort, not fight it, but to SURRENDER to my anxiety, pain, confusion and to my desperation. I learned this lesson the hard way. Through many challenges, many stumbles, falls and setbacks over the last twenty years. This idea of SURRENDER is one of the hardest but most important lessons I’ve learned in my life so far on my turbulent journey to finding peace, contentment and most of all stability.

I wanted to close by talking about the idea of revision. I will be working on revising and editing my memoir during this second and final week of the retreat. Along with listening to your insights and ideas that can help my story really come to life. Kiese Laymon wrote a touching memoir entitled: Heavy. We read this in our creative non fiction course in the spring. One of the themes throughout the memoir was this idea of revision. He emphasized the importance of it, not just in the literary world but in our own lives. He states: “Just because something is published doesn’t mean it’s finished.” He goes on to articulate how we can learn to revise our lives and in the process learn from our past mistakes. He believes revision is a constant state that we are in throughout our lives. His memoir and in particular the idea of revision spoke to my heart and soul. I may not be there just yet, wherever there is. I haven’t reached the pinnacle, or that allusive thing we are all searching and grasping for in life. But I’m working on it, and working on myself in the process, giving it all I got. Trying to put one foot in front of the other and take it day by day. I pray I ultimately end up somewhere lovely. Somewhere that I can finally look back on my life story and smile, exhale deeply, while patting myself on the back. Xo.

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Day 4 Reflections…

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Guys we are halfway there! It’s bittersweet and anyone who knows me knows I’m super sappy and hate good byes. But next week won’t be goodbye, it will be see you later! I hope to see you in the hallways of CAS and throughout the Kean campus when or if we do return in the Fall. Hopefully we can still recognize each other with these darn masks on! I’m going to keep this blog short and sweet. We all had a long, intensive week of reading, writing, thinking and posting, so no need for my long winded blogs before our long weekend! I’m sad that I was not able to make it to the author’s corner reading of your projects. I’m sure my friends in class will fill me in. I also look forward to being there next week to share some of “The Seashell” with you all and to hear all about the rest of your exciting projects! Today I’m prepared to work on revising and editing my draft of my memoir. I have close to thirty pages to dissect and analyze. Luckily for me I have the support from my creative non fiction professor, who is super kind and patient and willing to help me along the way. I have yet to share my memoir with Dr. Zamora, mostly due to the pandemic and the craziness of schedules and remote learning etc. Sadly I wasn’t able to connect with her. But her opinion, wisdom and knowledge matters to me the most! So I’m super excited and a little anxious to share it with Dr. Zamora next week, but I know I’m ready and it’s the next natural step to making my memoir breath and really come to life. I feel confident and secure with our entire class. I’m less afraid to share and more secure in being my authentic self with you all and I’m excited to receive all your input. That’s a special feeling considering we have only known each other for such a short time. How blessed are we?!

For this next part of my blog I’ll share my write for the day responses with you all. As far as what my writing is teaching me about myself, well it teaches me something new everyday. Throughout this retreat experience I feel like I’m able to write more easily and openly on the spot. Which in my opinion is important. I also feel more confident in gathering my thoughts and putting them onto paper without losing my train of thought. Bye bye writers block! Hello awesome ideas! I think the fast pace and nature of this particular retreat is helping me achieve that and also helping me build my confidence without second guessing my writing process as much. Which I’m thankful for. I’m feeling blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of this retreat. I’m also learning a great deal about each and every one of you. I’m listening intently to all your stories and what you share on screen and in your awesome blog posts. Listening is just as an important skill as writing, especially during such a distracting time that we are living in. Truly listening and hearing someone is a skill. To be present and mindful in each moment is another lesson that is being reinforced for me throughout this retreat. As I grow older I find myself becoming more mindful, thoughtful and introspective. That all contributes and helps me become a better version of myself and also a stronger writer. Lastly I think the value and importance of gratitude is very significant in shaping us all. Throughout my mental health struggles I at times felt very ashamed of my selfishness because when your suffering you can’t help but focus in on anything else but the demons within yourself. But over the years and through therapy, expressive writing and reading about the power of gratitude. I realized you can be depressed, anxious and have OCD and yet still be grateful at the same time. I learned to let go of the guilt of feeling like I was being selfish and realized that those dark times didn’t make me less appreciative or grateful for my family, friends and the support I received throughout the years. So if I leave you today with any thoughts just remember no matter how crappy your day, week or even year has been there is always time to practice gratitude and to be grateful for even the smallest of things. This helped feed my sad spirit and brought me more peace and hope, even in the darkest of times. So I hope my little token of wisdom helps! Consider it my fortune cookie to you all! I hope you all enjoy your weekend and see you all on Monday! Take care. Xo

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Day 3 Reflections..

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First I would like to start by saying how much I have enjoyed reading all your blog posts! I can already hear all your beautiful and distinct voices in your writing. Music to my ears! In my very first writing studies graduate class: Writing Theory & Practice last fall we discussed the importance of voice in writing and what that really means to us, not only as writers, but also as human beings. I can say for myself the lesson I learned was that my voice as a writer is ever evolving and manifesting itself in different ways each and every day. There is no wrong or right way, no linear way to do it. This realization gave me a huge sense of relief and I felt empowered. Forget the rules! Just write! When I began to let go my writing got stronger, more poignant and powerful. I wrote with more intention. I hope Dr. Zamora can share the link to the website our Writing & Theory class created as our final project for the fall semester. It was our very own website dedicated to VOICES IN WRITING. Each of us contributed to the site and it was a wonderful compilation of all of our hard work. So diverse and unique, each of us are so different yet so much alike. I encourage the new students in this program to check out our class website! We are all really proud of our work and the finished product. We poured our hearts into it. It can also serve as some inspiration for any future projects you may all encounter in your writing studies journey!

Another quick note and some comments about the tool of the day. I love https://web.hypothes.is/ please look into using it! Dr. Zamora introduced us to this tool during fall semester and we used it to annotate a powerful and poignant article written by a Syrian woman who was a journalist. She was right in the midst of the horrors of the war and wrote about her work as a translator and detailed all the personal losses she suffered. Through this awesome tool we were able to annotate the work right along with students from as far as Egypt! It was so inspiring! In particular because the article was about the Muslim/Arabic experience in a war torn country like Syria. We were able to read and respond to other college students from a country were they were touched and impacted by these events way more deeply than us. We never faced those horrors but they have. It was intimidating at first, what would they think of my comments? What did I know? I was just some privileged American girl watching the chaos from my television or computer screen, far removed from the sad realities of it all. But what I found in reading their annotations and having some of them personally respond back to mine, was that again as I’ve said before, here we were, living half way across the world, different ethnicity, different culture and from different religious beliefs, yet we were all saying the same things: WAR IS EVIL and despite our differences we all prayed for the same things: PEACE, LOVE AND FOR A BETTER TOMORROW.

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For the closing part of my blog I will share my writing reflections from the write into the day assignment. Some of the interesting discoveries I made were more of just self discovery while writing and laying the foundation for my memoir. At thirty eight years old I didn’t think there was much more for me to learn or discover about myself but I was mistaken. Throughout this process of writing both the short and now long memoir I’ve learned how resilient I am and even though I felt uncomfortable and my anxiety spiked at times while writing this, I still overcame it all.  I’m really excited to discover what my memoir will turn into and how it will end. I have a feeling it will end on an uplifting positive note. I want my audience to realize that there is always sunshine after the rain, there is in fact HOPE AND WE JUST NEED A LITTEL FAITH. I need to show my perseverance and my will to survive, to live, to thrive in this world. There are many new discoveries still to be made and I’m excited and looking forward to the surprises that lay ahead for me on my memoir journey. The most challenging moments for me personally were having to relive a lot of my troubled past and battles with my anxiety/OCD diagnosis. Some of my most powerful learning moments have been pushing through and tackling the sad memories that I was flooded with. I was able to feel the discomfort and pain all over again but I was also able to push past it and continue on my journey into writing a powerful, authentic memoir, regardless of how painful it was. I want my memoir to touch others and resonate with them so I knew I had to be resilient. Another challenge is to decide what to include in my memoir. I’m not sure how to judge what was relevant and necessary to include or exclude. Ah the writing process! So many questions to ponder!

So I had this tug of war within myself and had to take some time to really reflect and choose very carefully what to add or subtract from my memoir but again this is a work in progress and I have to remind myself of that daily. That’s really the point I’m at now and I hope with all your awesome feedback, from both my new group and Dr. Zamora I’ll be able to take it from there and maybe it will make the process of deciding what to include or exclude for the final thesis draft a bit easier for me. Overall I’m excited to see what “The Seashell” will become. I hope it will be inspiring and bring hope to anyone who reads it. I think what I learned the most on a personal level through the writing process in graduate school so far is that I’m a lot stronger than I give myself credit for. I also learned that I have to be gentler on myself and to be more forgiving. I tend to beat myself up over mistakes or poor decisions that I made in the past. I carry a lot of guilt which I find hard to release. It’s such a senseless emotion with no real purpose, but does such real damage to the soul. But I know that I’m only human and I need to start forgiving myself more easily. Writing this memoir gave me the chance to be more self reflective and looking back I was proud of myself for all I have overcome. It was a long hard journey to get to where I am today. Even though I haven’t reached my pinnacle just yet, and will suffer from OCD for the rest of my life, I’m able now to pat myself on the back and give myself credit for the resilience and strength I’ve shown throughout the years. I’m also able to live and accept the fact that I will continue to stumble and fall at times, but I get back up much quicker than before. I guess this is a step in the right direction. Me slowly learning to forgive myself more easily and to appreciate and love the woman I now see staring back at me. I still see my flaws but I’m proud of my battle wounds. I earned them and I’m learning to live with them, as less of a burden now and as more of motivation to let go, and just live my life, day by day. It’s amazing what writing can do to a person! So these are my slow, fragile steps in the right direction, in the direction of continuing success both personally and professionally. The sky’s the limit and I’m hopeful for the future and what it holds for me. Lastly I’m so excited to be part of Group 3! Such a dynamic group of amazing women who I hope to continue to work with and learn from! Thanks for another great day everyone! See you all tomorrow! Take care. Xo.

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Day 2 Reflections…

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Day 2 is in the books whoo hoo! I enjoy this retreat very much I wish it was longer! I have to admit when our spring semester was cut short and we were forced into this remote learning environment I felt so uncomfortable and uneasy. I hated the idea of having to communicate with my professors and classmates via video chats. I already got to know them all in person and we immediately connected and became close. I was worried that losing that in real life learning environment would mean we wouldn’t connect as much and put a distance between us. But my fears and insecurities quickly turned to hope! I soon realized that in some ways the distance and what I believed to be disconnectedness via virtual learning actually made us closer! I started to become more comfortable with the video chatting and since all of us were having to adjust very quickly to these new changes we were in this together! We bonded even more and helped each other through it. Which brings me to my thoughts and feelings about connected learning. I never heard of this concept until I began my journey in the Writing Studies program.

I’ve learned so much about the positive effects of connected learning. In particular about participatory culture. I was inspired when I learned about this powerful movement. In a world that is ruled by social media and the eruption of the world wide web and all the good and bad that comes with it I at times felt lost and obsolete. I must admit growing up in a generation pre internet where I knew what it was like to survive and thrive in a world without a cell phone (gasp) I had ambivalent views about the internet explosion and social media bombardment. But what I have learned so far in the Writing Studies program with many courses geared towards educating us about the digital world we live in is that there is a lot of good that can come out of our digital experiences if we learn the tools we need to become active in positive ways that can promote and implement real change. Participatory media allows people to create, connect, and share their content or build friendships throughout the media and promote and bring awareness to important issues that matter to them and to the rest of the world. I’m all for it now and feel empowered. l I’m a better human being for having learned all about connected learning and the power we all have to facilitate real change.

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I try to live my life now with intention. I do my best not to just go through the motions but rather, feel, breath, digest, and embrace all the good and the bad emotions and experiences that have become the story of my life so far. That’s what brings me to my closing comments for this blog post which is a few details about my thesis project. In the spring semester I took a creative non fiction course which was geared towards memoir. We were required to read several memoirs from diverse and inspiring authors who shared their deeply personal and compelling stories of their struggles and triumphs. Our professor gave us a assignment to write our own memoir, first a short draft and then an expanded version which would be our final draft. I was intrigued but also hesitant. I wasn’t sure what to write about. What did I have to say about my life in the last 38 years since I’ve been in existence? By semester’s end I had thirty pages written of the long hard journey I have been on in trying to conquer my anxiety and OCD diagnosis. I was diagnosed with anxiety as a young girl around the age of 12 at a time in the early 90’s when it was still taboo to openly discuss any type of mental health disorder or illness. In my twenties I was diagnosed with a specific form of anxiety, the more debilitating and confusing form: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Luckily I had mild to moderate OCD, not the debilitating kind that sadly many people experience. I was still able to function but the complex symptoms and certain stressful life events that compounded my illness made life extremely hard to thrive in. So my thirty pages so far is me purging all the good, the bad and the ugly of what I have been through over the last 20 years in battling through this.

My professor in this course encouraged me to continue on with my story “The Seashell” and I also got amazing feedback from two other classmates who have read it and who I have discussed it with. It’s not an easy topic to talk about today even though mental illness has become less stigmatized. I mean how many commercials a day do we see promoting depression and bi polar medications? Where were those advertisements of hope when I was suffering? Not to mention the countless websites and blogs dedicated to helping sufferers fight their battles. But I’m happy to see the tides of change in mental health awareness over the years. It brings hope and less shame to those of us who are diagnosed sufferers. As I write in my memoir, hatred and self loathing goes hand in hand with mental illness. It can be a very isolating and lonely place to exist in. But through the years with amazing support and love surrounding me, and also the self love I learned to develop which took me years and years to achieve, I have pushed through the dark times and am here today talking, living, thriving (but still have my moments) and writing so openly and honestly about it. What a catharsis it has been and I hope it will continue to evolve into something great for my final thesis project. It just started as a small required assignment but has turned into a real passion project for me. I will give more hints and details to what the symbolism of the actual sea shell means and how it relates to my story in later posts. Thanks for listening. Sorry it’s so long! Ugh! Dr. Zamora knows me already I write way too much! See you all tomorrow! Xo.

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Reflections On Our First Day…

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I was impatiently awaiting the start of the Writing Retreat and the kick off to summer classes so now that the day has finally arrived I feel like as my good friend Meagan always says: “TIME TO EXHALE.” The anticipation was too much! Partly because of the isolation and chaos of the pandemic (we just need a release already) and partly because I’m Italian which naturally makes me a nervous ball of energy! It was amazing to see so many new faces and I love the diversity in our group! I feel like we all can learn so much from one another even in this short time that we have together. I feel confident that we will all make the most of this unique experience and opportunity. Given the unprecedented events due to COVID-19 I’ve learned to face my fears, complain less and appreciate so much more of the little things in life. So for me this remote summer session experience is just another step in learning acceptance and it forces me to embrace change which I have a difficult time with. I believe this retreat will teach me more healthy ways to cope with what we are all being faced with today, which is and will continue to be many more uncomfortable moments in time. Writing for me has and always will be an innate gift that I’m thankful for. It heals me, speaks to me, soothes me, and allows me to purge my deepest and darkest emotions and fears. Writing also allows me to reflect on happier times and also helps me to express my gratitude. It serves as a reminder to myself of how far I have come in my life and that I need to learn how to forgive myself more easily. Writing for me is like giving myself a pat on the back. Letting myself know that everything will be okay, go easy Nives, be gentle on yourself. Sometimes it’s difficult to say the words yet easier to just write it out. The concept of this retreat intrigues me and inspires me! Especially during this stressful time, how amazing to get two weeks to relax, reflect, connect and write about whatever our hearts desire. I think we can all use a little bit of that right about now. I feel my creative juices flowing already on day 1! I can’t wait to read and engage in lively class discussions with all of you and to learn more about you through all your unique blog posts! It’s such a crazy time we are living in right now and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to meet such nice people, with similar goals, and life experiences. I already feel so connected to you all and I’m excited to see where this adventure takes us. As far as my writing project for the course I have some ideas. I might choose to focus on my memoir which is entitled: “The Seashell.” I started this project in my Creative Non Fiction memoir course in the spring semester and what started as just a required assignment quickly turned into a passion project for me. I’m not 100% set on it just yet but let’s see where this journey takes me! I feel like each day of this retreat will bring me closer to my final decision about the project for this course and my overall thesis. So stay tuned! See you all tomorrow! Take Care. Xo.

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Choose Your Method: A Comparison of Phenomenology, Discourse Analysis, and Grounded Theory.

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Qualitative research is a type of social science research that collects and works with non-numerical data and that seeks to interpret meaning from this data that help understand social life through the study of targeted populations or places. People often frame it in opposition to quantitative research, which uses numerical data to identify large-scale trends and employs statistical operations to determine causal and correlative relationships between variables. This type of research has long appealed to social scientists because it allows the researchers to investigate the meanings people attribute to their behavior, actions, and interactions with others. Qualitative research is designed to reveal the meaning that informs the action or outcomes that are typically measured by quantitative research. But this type of research is not just prevalent in the social sciences. As we learn from this article qualitative research and its methods are now commonly used in our health care systems. Qualitative researchers have made significant contributions to health services and policy (HSP) research, providing valuable insights into the ways we conceptualize health, illness, patients’ experiences, the dynamics of inter professional teams and many aspects of care delivery. Qualitative methodologies, such as grounded theory, ethnography, and phenomenology, are now regularly employed to pursue a variety of HSP topics. Qualitative researchers investigate meanings, interpretations, symbols, and the processes and relations of social life. What this type of research produces is descriptive data that the researcher must then interpret using rigorous and systematic methods of transcribing, coding, and analysis of trends and themes. Methods of qualitative research include:

  • observation and immersion
  • interviews
  • open-ended surveys
  • focus groups
  • content analysis of visual and textual materials
  • oral history
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The chart labeled Figure 1 introduces us to the similarities and differences between Phenomenology, Grounded Theory and Discourse Analysis. Figure 1 is in an hour glass like shape which outlines the history, philosophy, goals, analytic methods, audience and products of each method. It’s a clear and cohesive chart that does a excellent job of highlighting the key differences and similarities between each method. In this article Starks and Trinidad compare and contrast all three methods. They also state in regards to Figure 1:

Phenomenology, discourse analysis, and grounded theory are the products of different intellectual traditions. However, their coevolution in the history of ideas means that the boundaries between them are porous. This is depicted in the figure by the vertical dotted lines that separate the three approaches. In what follows, we provide a brief summary of the intellectual lineage and basic value commitments of phenomenology, discourse analysis, and grounded theory.” (Starks; Trinidad, 2007).

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So lets start with the fundamentals of each methodology which we all have discussed, studied and presented in class. Phenomenology is an approach to qualitative research that focuses on the commonality of a lived experience within a particular group. The fundamental goal of the approach is to arrive at a description of the nature of the particular phenomenon. In its most basic form, phenomenology attempts to create conditions for the objective study of topics usually regarded as subjective: consciousness and the content of conscious experiences such as judgments, perceptions, and emotions. It seeks through systematic reflection to determine the essential properties and structures of experience. 

The phenomenological perspective is nicely captured in a remark attributed to Einstein that expresses the difference between embodied time and chronologic time: Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour and it seems like a minute, That’s relativity.” (Starks; Trinidad, 2007).

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Discourse analysis is a research method for studying written or spoken language in relation to its social context. It aims to understand how language is used in real life situations. Whereas other areas of language study might focus on individual parts of language such as words and phrases (grammar) or the pieces that make up words. Discourse analysis looks at a running conversation involving a speaker and listener (or a writer’s text and its reader). In discourse analysis, the context of a conversation is taken into account as well as what’s being said. This context may include a social and cultural framework, including the location of a speaker at the time of the discourse, as well as nonverbal cues such as body language, and, in the case of textual communication, it may also include images and symbols. 

“Careful analysis of language, using what Gee (2005) has described as the seven “building tasks” of language (significance, activities, identities, relationships, politics, connections, and sign systems and knowledge), can shed light on the creation and maintenance of social norms, the construction of personal and group identities, and the negotiation of social and political interaction.” (Starks; Trinidad, 2007).

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Grounded theory is a research methodology that results in the production of a theory that explains patterns in data, and that predicts what social scientists might expect to find in similar data sets. When practicing this popular social science method, a researcher begins with a set of data, either qualitative or quantitative, then identifies patterns, trends, and relationships among the data. Based on these, the researcher constructs a theory that is “grounded” in the data itself. This research method differs from the traditional approach to science, which begins with a theory and the seeks to test it through the scientific method. As such, grounded theory can be described as an inductive method, or a form of inductive reasoning.

Grounded theory examines the six “Cs: of social processes (causes, contexts, contingencies, consequences, covariances, and conditions) to understand the patterns and relationships among these elements.” (Strauss; Corbin, 1998).

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The next section of the article is about The Approaches and Methods of each methodology and how they compare and contrast. When each is employed as a research method, differences emerge with respect to how the researchers frame research questions, sample participants, and collect data.

Framing the Research Question. Phenomenologists ask questions about lived experiences, as contrasted with abstract interpretations of experience or opinions about them. (Van Manen, 1990). Discourse analysts explore how knowledge, meaning, identities, and social goods are negotiated and constructed through language-in-use. Grounded theorists inquire about how social structural and processes influence how things are accomplished through a given set of social interactions.

Sampling. Phenomenologists are interested in common features of the lived experience. Data from only a few participants who have experienced the phenomenon-and who can provide a detailed account of their experience. Typical sample sizes for phenomenological studies range from 1 to 10 persons. With Discourse Analysis sampling different groups that participate within a given discourse can illuminate the ways in which participants appeal to external discourses and identity their influence on the discourse under study. The sizes depends on analytic objective and the data source. Grounded Theory relies on theoretical sampling, which involves recruiting participants with differing experiences of the phenomenon so as to explore dimensions of the social processes under study. The researcher continues to add individuals to the sample until she reaches theoretical saturation. Typical grounded theory studies report sample sizes ranging from 10 to 60 persons.

Data Collection. In all three approaches data collection strategies can use a mix of observation, interviews, and close reading of texts. In phenomenology observation of how participants live in their environment through time and space provides cues about how they might embody meaning. For discourse analysis observing participants speech provides insight about how the participants use language to accomplish their goals and position themselves in relation to others. Interviews are an important component of qualitative research data collection. In a phenomenological or grounded theory study the objective of the interview is to elicit the participant’s story. Both researcher and participant assume that their words will be understood as spoken and intended, in essence their words will speak for themselves. However, in discourse analysis the objective of the interview is to capture the participants language, including any references or appeals to other discourses. In discourse it is not assumed that the researcher and participant necessarily mean the same thing when they use the same words. In this context words are not assumed to speak for themselves.

When it comes to Analytic Methods all three methods are fairly similar. All three interpretive methods distill textual data to a set of categories or concepts from which the final product can be drawn. Coding Van Manen (1990) stated: “that phenomenological analysis is primarily a writing exercise, as it is through the process of writing and rewriting that the researcher can distill meaning.” Analysts use writing to compose a story that captures the important elements of the lived experience. By the end of this story the reader should feel that he or she has experienced the phenomenon under study and should be able to envision themselves coming to similar conclusions about what it means. In discourse analysis the objective is to understand what people are doing with their language in a given situation. So coding the coding phase entails identifying themes and roles as signified through their language use. Gee (2005) described the analytic process as one of searching for textual evidence to show how language accomplishes the seven building tasks. Grounded theory involves a constant comparison method of both coding and analyzing data through three stages: open coding, axial coding, and selective coding.

The Role of the Analyst is very important in qualitative analysis. The researcher is the instrument for analysis. The researcher makes all the judgements about coding, categorizing, decontextualizing and decontextualizing the data. Each of the approaches has its own techniques for monitoring, documenting, and evaluating the analytic process and the researcher’s role to assure the validity and trustworthiness.

Audience and Product the products of research will vary based not only on the analytic approach but also on how far the analyst carries the interpretations of the findings. Phenomenological analyses produce thematic descriptions that provide insight into the meaning of the lived experience. It is often written out as anecdotes or thematic stories. Audiences for these analysis include clinicians and others whose practice would be enhanced by understanding how individuals live through and make sense of a particular experience. The products of discourse analysis use evidence from participants narratives and other texts to expose the ways in which people use language to accomplish their objectives; as such, discourse analysis often have a pragmatic aim and require more analytical abstraction. This audience usually includes clinicians, interventionists, and policy makers. They use discourse analysis to understand how framing and language can help achieve a desired outcome. Although the goal of grounded theory analysis is to produce theory, some analysts only identify patterns within and between categories. Audiences for grounded theories include clinicians, practitioners, and researchers who are interested in designing interventions to support engaged in social processes explained by the theory.

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The last part of the research article details how researchers applied the three approaches to a Single Data Set. I won’t go to far into details for the conclusion because there is a detailed chart and three brief data sets that are there to help us compare and contrast the methodologies. I’m also excited to see what Kevin has to present for us on Monday. I hope to gain more knowledge and insight into this article through his presentation and his break down of it. It’s always nice to hear my fellow cohorts interpretations and perspectives on each article. We all are unique learners with a distinct voice and each one of us brings new insights and ideas to everything we have read and presented on so far this semester. So I will just briefly explain the premise. An interview study with 25 primary care physicians (PCPs) that explored their use of informed decision making (IDM) in the context of prostate cancer screening. Table 1 summarizes the differences with respect to the purpose, research questions and audience. This table is helpful in dissecting the data and information gathered from all three approaches. Phenomenology: PCPs Lived Experience of Decision Making Under Uncertainty: The analysis reveals aspects of PCPs lived experiences of decision making under uncertainty. The product of the research is a thematic description of the common elements of the experience. The audience in this case includes other physicians who can use this to make sense of their own difficulties with decision making under stress and uncertainty. How The Discourses of Medicine and Public Health Constructs Doctor-Patient Roles and Identities. Examining how PCPs and how they talk and converse with their patients about prostate cancer screenings reveals which discourses they and their patients bring to the encounter as well as what other factors in the conversation trigger use of one preferred discourse over another. This analysis can help in understanding how discourse in medicine and public health can help or hinder the IDM techniques used by PCPs. The audience for this is great for medical educators to help PCPs asses patients assumptions and expectations and address these in conversations that warrant informed decision making. Last but not least: Grounded Theory: Making the Most of the Visit: The goal of this analysis is to develop a theory that explains what circumstances lead to prostate cancer screening discussions in primary care settings. Also how and why doctors and patients engage in these discussions. The six C’s are used to discover the conditions that shape the clinical encounter between doctor and patient. In the IDM study we learned that many factors affected whether and how PCPs discuss prostate cancer screening. First limitation was tight appointment times and scheduling. Patients expectations were also a factor to consider in prostate cancer screening discussions. PCPs were more likely to engage in an involved conversation with a patient if the patient had not already made up their minds about whether to be screened. In these cases doctors were trying hard to meet their patients needs, offering information, expert advice, and ways for their patients to weigh the pros and cons of screening and their future treatment plan. In grounded theory analysis what is seen to be most important is making the most of the visit. The audience that can benefit from this finding is clinic directors and others with an interest in promoting informed decision making around cancer screenings.

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Overall I enjoyed reading and analyzing this article. I did my best to present and highlight the most important facts. I thought learning about the three different methods was important for us as a class especially at this stage in the game. We are all about to embark on our final research proposal projects. While some of us will continue on even further in the research field (not me). For the final article to be a compare and contrast of three methodologies that we already studied was great. I think its safe to say we can all use a refresher. It can only be a benefit to us and our own research endeavors going forward. Reading this furthered our knowledge and understanding into each of the three methods and how we can apply them to our own proposals if we so choose. I gained new insights about my own proposal. I also learned more about phenomenology and how it applies to my personal research. I embedded three videos below which I think give a great overview of each method we studied in this article. As I said before, it never hurts to have a refresher on the methods. Hope it helps and good luck to everyone on their final proposals! Yay our final blog! We did it guys! Xo

Discourse Moves In Online Classroom Discussion that Reflect Students’ Needs for Distinctiveness.

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I thought it was fitting that the topic of research is about discourse in an online learning environment. Due to the pandemic all of us are being forced to participate in online classes each week until the semester ends and maybe even longer into September. I actually found myself feeling uneasy and ambivalent about the idea of conducting our classes online. But I most definitely understand the need for it in these uncertain times. I just feel like the online learning experience is nothing like IRL (in real life). There is no comparison in my opinion. I want to hear, feel, touch and absorb everything I’m learning in person. I also want to hear, feel, and touch my classmates, well not literally touch them but you know what I mean. I need the in vivo, in person connection that I feel is so valuable in our academic learning experiences. Engaging in discourse through a computer screen takes away the realness, the closeness and the connection for me. When I reflect on this article and it’s findings I wonder how my own identity and personality changes, conforms or adapts to my discourse in the online classroom environment. Honestly I found myself feeling shy and more reserved during my first few online classes. I felt unsure and not confident enough to speak up like I normally do in person while in the classroom. Strangely my insecurity was at a all time high with the prospect of having to engage in online learning and classroom chats. I thought reading this article at this particular moment in time was really useful for me in relating my own experiences with its findings and seeing what the results have to say about other students experiences in their discourse within online learning. In this study, the researchers use both quantitative and qualitative approaches to evaluating uniqueness-seeking and its relation to posts made in an online academic environment. A modified case methodology was used. Eight students were selected from 13 graduate students enrolled in a course entitled “Discourse Practices.” A modified case methodology was utilized. The students’ responses were coded for cognitive and social cues. Qualitative analysis was based on the researchers’ analyses of coded data. Quantitative analyses came into play when researchers utilized numerical systems such as scales and charts to collect and present results. The study measured graduate students’ levels of uniqueness seeking and explored whether and how students with various needs for uniqueness performed in online classroom discussions for a meaningful exchange. The researchers state: “A unique feature of our methodology was to use “cross-case studies” by grouping participants within the same level of amount of contribution to the CMC discussion but who represented different levels of uniqueness-seeking needs.” So this allowed them to compare and contrast both within and across different groups. The coding system they used was strong in my opinion and proved to give salient and valid results. I also liked the use of the graphs and tables. As you know I cringe at the sight of charts and such but in this article I found them to be clear and concise. It added to my overall understanding of the findings. I liked in particular Appendix A and Appendix B. I also thought Table 2 and Table 3 were both very useful in helping me to breakdown the uniqueness seeking groupings, ratings and data.

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I had never heard of the term uniqueness-seeking until I read this article so I wanted to dig deeper so I put my researcher goggles on and got to work! See I’m really trying my best to embrace research and its various methodologies. I’m slowly learning more as I go along on this journey. I wanted to learn more about what uniqueness- seeking means because it is a central theme in this research study and I was intrigued. This is some of what I found. Uniqueness theory explains that extremely high perceived similarity between self and others evokes negative emotional reactions and causes uniqueness seeking behavior. Uniqueness involves a person’s distinctiveness in relation to other people. Such uniqueness can reflect actual behaviors or a person’s perceptions regarding his or her differences. People can vary in the degree to which they want such distinctiveness, with some being highly desirous of specialness (high need for uniqueness) and others who do not want to stand out from other people (low need for uniqueness). Brewer, M. B. (1991) This helped me gain a better understanding of the term and how it relates to the students and their identities. Brewer was also a key figure who was mentioned in this study. When I apply this to myself, I think about the statements I made in my introduction about my hesitation to participate in our online classes. I would consider myself a low need for uniqueness type of person. I believe that has to do with my older age and not really caring what people think about me these days. Another important factor that puts me in the low need for uniqueness category is my graduate school status and experience level. At this stage in the game for me personally I don’t feel the need to have to prove myself or the need to be seen. Through my better understanding of uniqueness seeking theory I can now see how it applies to me personally. in an online environment. I also see how it applies to the students who were researched in terms of their discourse practices and online interactions with each other.

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The results showed that students had differing levels and needs for being unique. Most students’ uniqueness-seeking needs fell between low and slightly above moderate, and generally remained stable or decreased across the semester. The only exception was the student Dee, who, by the end of semester, had increased her need for uniqueness seeking. Important was the findings that the different codes used in 16, 17 and 18 all which were cognitive moves. These were among the most common moves regardless of the participants uniqueness-seeking levels or number of discussion comments. There was also a trend found between uniqueness-seeking levels and the proportion of cognitive to social moves. Students with higher uniqueness needs made more cognitive than social moves. That finding was made through the survey results. In contrast the gap between cognitive and social moves was very small for the students with low need for uniqueness. What was interesting to me was that no relationship between need for uniqueness and amount of contribution to the class discussion was found. A high or low need for uniqueness did not ensure higher engagement or more enjoyment. The researchers in this study were very open and honest with their limitations. They agree that further research should be done and other possibilities should be considered that may affect students’ learning and perceptions of online discussions. The weekly surveys administered were said to reveal other additional factors, such as student’s comprehension of the readings, their interests in the discussion topics, technical difficulties, the dynamics of the group and their own personal health status. Admittedly these factors may have had a impact on student’s enjoyment and participation with the online discussions rather then just their need for uniqueness. So what we learn is that the need for uniqueness seems to only represent one of several factors relevant to explaining students’ online work. I read Medea’s blog earlier. I know she is the presenter for this article and I must say I agree with a lot of what she calls the limitations of the study. Why not a larger pool of participants only 8? What about their cultural and diverse ethnic identities? Also most importantly what Medea highlights in her blog and I agree with is that these were graduate school students taking a class called “Discourse Analysis.” So wouldn’t this make them a step ahead of the others? Would it make them more confident in making discourse moves from the other graduate students? Like I mentioned above the research team acknowledges that more research needs to be done. So why not do it? I found all of this to be problematic but overall it has been interesting to be able to connect this article with some of the more recent articles that delve deeper into this idea of how important our identities are in shaping us as students and as human beings. I found this Ted Talk which I really enjoyed and thought could add to the conversation. I hope you enjoy it. Also a quote that I always loved and found fitting for this topic of conversation! See you in class! I think I’m ready to make some discourse moves of my own now! Take care guys. Xo

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