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  1. New Podcast Bedtime Story: The Country Antiques Market

    June 10, 2022 by asteffann

    I loosely based this relaxing sleepy story on a real antiques market near where I live in Loudoun County, VA. The narration by TK Kellman is perfect and I truly hope you can’t stay awake until the end. Enjoy!

  2. Chronotopes: They Sound Complicated, but They’re Cool

    December 15, 2012 by asteffann

    …and make sense.

    What is a chronotope?

    There’s an old saying that “Hindsight is 20/20,” meaning that events often seem clearer with the benefit of distance and objectivity. Consider whether or not you have ever looked back upon an event from your past and had a new perspective on what happened than you did at the time. Do you think you would tell the story of that event differently now than you would have then?

    According to the influential literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin, any story, told by any person, is firmly entrenched in the time and place in which it happened. Not only that, but the story is also influenced by the biases and experiences of the narrator or the writer…and even by your own biases as a reader! It sounds very complicated but it is, in fact, a pretty basic concept. In short, stories are always told from someone’s unique point of view and they are received by readers through yet another lens of experience.  He calls the unique worlds created by these stories “chronotopes.”

    In his essay “Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel,” Mikhail Bakhtin explains it this way:  he states that readers “must never confuse…the represented world with the world outside the text” (253) (the “real” world, if there is such a thing). He explains that the phenomenon of chronotope in literature is a function of “the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial relationships,” (84) but that “out of the actual chronotopes of our world…emerge the reflected and created chronotopes of the world represented in the work” (252). To put it more simply, the teller of the tale will show you a story that is one version of what happened in that place, in that time, from his or her point of view. This is a unique chronotope would have changed if the story had been moved elsewhere or happened years later. Each story is inseparable from its setting and its writer.

    Are events clearer in retrospect? Or not?

    Are events clearer in retrospect? Or not?

    photo: lowjumpingfrog

    Works Cited

    Bakhtin, M. M., and Michael Holquist. “Forms of Time and Chronotope in the Novel.” The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Austin: University of Texas, 1981. Print.

  3. Want That Job? Don’t Forget to Write!

    February 27, 2012 by asteffann

    Today I came across an article by the managing editor of Business Insider that reiterated something my mother taught me at a young age:

    Thank you notes matter.

    When I was in college, searching for my first job in business, I wrote these on the typewriter in my room. In each note, I was sure to do all of the following:

    • Spell the interviewer’s name properly
    • Say something that indicated I remember what we discussed in the interview
    • Reiterate my interest in the position
    • Say something about why I would be a good fit for the job

    All of this was done with proper block format and then I signed the letters by hand. These letters were always mailed within a day or two. Waiting more than a week was considered lax.

    It’s not surprising, in the digital age, that emailing such a letter is considered acceptable. This doesn’t mean, however, that you should slip into sloppy habits like those you’d use when emailing friends. Despite the temptation to think of it as just a causal missive, you always have to remember that you will be judged one more time by the content and style of this email. In fact, as this article points out, your worst mistake of all is not bothering to send one.

    Whether you’re applying for an administrative, a technical, or an executive job, give this article a look. It provides compelling evidence that even those of us who do not envision using writing in their careers are still going to need to express themselves clearly and persuasively to get ahead.

  4. Say What?!

    December 6, 2011 by asteffann

    A friend of mine from my advertising days posted this link today, and I couldn’t agree with it more.

    Whether it’s in business or in academics, many of us are feeling overloaded with jargon. Writing is needlessly complicated. Meaning is lost. Sincerity is compromised.

    I really appreciate what Dan Palotta has to say in this post called I Don’t Understand What Anyone is Saying Anymore and I challenge myself and all of my students to be less concerned with sounding “smart” and become more concerned with clarity!

  5. Literally…

    October 13, 2011 by asteffann

    In class last week, I couldn’t resist airing my complaints about how people are always using the word “literally” to describe things that are not really literal.

    For example:

    “My headache was so bad that my head was literally exploding.”

    Um. NO. Your head may have been figuratively exploding…or you wouldn’t be telling me this story.  I felt kind of bad sharing this diatribe with my students. I knew one of two things must be true: either they were thinking what a bore I am for being so picky (and that I should get a hobby) or they had just acquired a new pet peeve that would dog them for life.

    Not literally.

    Anyway, today I saw an article on CNN and was about to cry foul.  MISUSED!

    Then I read the article and saw that I had (figuratively) jumped the gun.

    Your dead iPhone is a goldmine – literally

    (weird lack of capitalization in title is theirs, not mine)

    I was expecting a story about how people could mine my information in my dead iPhone to steal my money, which does not make an iPhone a literal goldmine.  However, it appears that a dead iPhone actually contains precious metals. Actually!

    Well, I don’t really have an iPhone, but now I’m thinking about how much I should really let my toddler play Angry Birds on my precious Droid.


  6. Isn’t it really, truly ironic?

    October 12, 2011 by asteffann

    We were talking about irony in class.

    Specifically, the conversation revolved around a song by Alanis Morissette that I can’t help but really dislike.  You all know it.  This is a song that has made it even harder for Generation X to determine what things are ironic and which things are just an enormous bummer. There is an argument that her situations represent cosmic irony. I remain unconvinced. In any event, if you adhere to the basic definition that irony is a situation in which the result is the opposite of what one would expect, Morissette’s song does poorly.

    Fly in your chardonnay.  It may make me swap my glass, but it is not ironic. It’s not even unusual, if you are outside.

    Meeting the man of your dreams and then meeting his beautiful wife?  Not ironic.  In fact, most of my single friends would argue it is so common that they could scream.

    Rain on your wedding day? Judging by the soggy season we’ve all had here in the D.C. area, this is more likely than not! Therefore, I say it is (again) not ironic.

    A good way to get a fly in your chardonnay

    Alanis Morissette fails miserably at thinking up ironic situations (although she may more recently be overshadowed by Natasha Bedingfield, who pronounces the word hyperbole as “hyper BOWL” in a hit song).  After our discussion in class, during which we tried to think of truly ironic situations, something happened to me that I felt qualified.  I had to share it.

    My husband and I have been trying for months to get an approval from our very strict homeowner’s association.  We want to plant a tree in the common area behind our house.  Finally, the approval was given and the homeowner’s association sent us some paperwork to sign, finalizing our permissions to plant this tree.

    They sent it to the wrong address.  


    “Isn’t it ironic.  Don’t you think? A little too ironic.  Oh yeah I really do think.” – Alanis Morissette

    Oh, look.  It’s pouring rain again.

  7. Depends who you talk to…

    October 2, 2011 by asteffann

    A few weeks ago, I decided to try an experiment.  I asked my professional and academic friends to all view this picture, and write about it using the point-of-view, conventions, and jargon considered standard within their own disciplines. Now, obviously, this is not a picture that, say, a lawyer or a political science professor would normally be evaluating. However, the very amusing results of this exercise go a long way toward demonstrating how important it is to take the time to assess any given discipline or career field with fresh eyes before you write.

    Note, as you proceed through the responses, how each writer chooses different aspects of the photo upon which to comment.  It is not just how each of these experienced professionals writes that tells the story; it is what each one writes about!

    Me…English Teacher:

    I walked into the room to find my son resting awkwardly in this unbelievable position. Sleeping like a log, he had somehow come crashing down from the chair. No adult could tolerate such a nap, yet he snoozed blissfully away, as if no pursuit were more important than that of enjoying his afternoon respite. I stifled a snort of disbelief and ran for the camera.

    Immigration Lawyer:

    This is not *good* writing, but an average lawyer MIGHT write: “All that is known is that Plaintiff slept in a contorted position, on a chair and ottoman that appear to be child-sized furniture. The cushioned chair to Plaintiff’s right indicates that this was either Plaintiff’s room or a child play area. Whether Plaintiff was placed in this position by a third party or parties, or came into this position of his own volition, is not knowable from the picture. Plaintiff appears to be well cared for, with brushed hair, clean clothing, and neatly fitted diaper, as well as the large toys in evidence elsewhere in the picture.”

    Interactive Marketing Professional:

    “The target audience for this promotion is between 2-4 years old. They are interested in bunnies and puppies and index strongly to unstructured naps. However, they are not likely to nap in a logical location. As you can see by this representative image, they are also enjoy running around partially clothed. They share some common attributes with a slightly older age group – including love of dump trucks and ability to exercise in their sleep.”

    Prosecuting Lawyer:

    The prosecutor in the case will do this for an opening statement. “This is a case about broken trust. About promises betrayed. All our victim did was love the little boy to whom she’d been entrusted. And how did he repay her? With legs gnarled around her helpless neck, leaving her bent and destroyed. This was no unpremeditated act. Note the careful placement of the victim at the center of the child’s own chair, where she faced the maximum likelihood of harm during his inevitable naps. And the evidence will show, respected jurors, that the naps were indeed inevitable, happening throughout the victim’s home. No stuffed animal could be safe from his sleep rampages. Let this bunny’s untimely demise serve a greater purpose: let us find this child guilty of napping in unusual places so that other bunnies can be kept safe. This is your charge. Your stuffed animals will thank you.”


    Art Historian/Museum Education Director

    “This is a well-balanced and carefully composed new installation by an up and coming contemporary artist. He has broken new ground in performance art; his contorted pose in the center creates not only a strong focal point but a source of tension for the viewer. The bunny and yellow truck seem haphazardly placed at first, but they in fact anchor the middle and foregrounds respectively, and invite the viewer in. The viewer’s eye moves around the scene, drawn by the subtle touches of red in the ottoman, artist’s t-shirt, chair and the curtains in the background. The viewer leaves the scene with a feeling of discomfort while at the same time warm remembrances of childhood.”

    Political Scientist:

    “A causal link between stuffed rabbits and child slumber could affect early childhood education policy at both the local and national levels. A single case, while useful in generating hypotheses, cannot establish such a causal link, however. A well designed study would include a large number of children and would randomize assignment of stuffed rabbits to generate treatment and control groups of roughly equal number. Researchers should then track sleep behavior over time in an effort to determine whether a statistically significant difference exists between children in the company of stuffed rabbits and children without a toy.”

    Psychology Researcher:

    PARTICIPANTS. The participant was a Caucasian 3-year-old male child. He was identified by his parents’ response to a solicitation on a public website (Steffann, 2011) requesting uploads of digital photographs of “children napping in unusual positions.” The selected photograph was one of a series of 97 photos uploaded to the website over a period of 5 years. The participant received no direct compensation for participating.

    PROCEDURE. Five psychology doctoral students rated each uploaded photo for Nap Position Typicality (1 = Extremely Atypical, 7 = Extremely Typical) and provided written comments about each. Interrater reliability was high (kappa = .73). The selected photo (Figure 1) received the lowest mean typicality rating (M = 1.2, SD = 1.34) of the corpus. Raters remarked in comments that the napping position presented in this photo “looked painful” and was “kind of nuts.”

    Cultural Geographer:

    “The spaces of domesticity in the American suburb have shifted to accommodate expanded definitions of what is necessary for childrearing in contemporary society. Not only have increasingly large portions of the home (bedrooms, playrooms, mudrooms) been distinctly set aside for children, but entire niches of consumer products developed to fill them. A dizzying array of fashionable, color-coordinated and child-scaled furniture and accessories exists for articulating contemporary scenes of domesticity (although perhaps not as intended in this case). This contrasts quite dramatically with attitudes towards childrearing and the resulting design of housing and consumer goods from other eras.”

    Computer Programmer:

    “There is a boy in a diaper sleeping on a chair. He does not look very comfortable.”

    Urban Planner:

    “The site conditions include a 1/3 scale chair and footstool in a mixed-use environment with child themed organizers and toys as the predominant type. Permitted uses are generally, siting with feet extended onto the footstool or alternately, sitting on the footstool itself. The current use is non-conforming and will require a Variance if it is to continue. ”


    “The concept of ‘childhood,’ as argued by historian Phillipe Aries, is a relatively new phenomenon. In the Middle Ages, children were viewed as merely small adults. They were put to work as soon as they could walk and treated under what today we would consider abysmal conditions. By contrast, in the twenty-first century, as demonstrated in this photograph, children are allowed considerably more freedom to express themselves through play, sleep, and even physical composure. The brightly-colored furnishings and clothing and the ubiquitous presence of stuffed toys in this image emphasize the modern-day concept of the child in his own right.”


    “The NANDA (North Atlantic Nursing Diagnosis Association) approved nursing diagnosis that most clearly suits this 3 yr old patient is “readiness for enhanced activity-exercise pattern”. His feet, clearly worn out from hours of play, are properly elevated. When he awakens he will surely be ready for all enhanced activity and will provide much exercise to his mother who will need to chase after him!”

  8. Comma Catastrophe

    September 28, 2011 by asteffann

    For my entire adult life, I’ve been told by other people that I don’t need to use a comma to separate the final two items in a series, providing they are connected with “and” or “or.”

    Take, for example, this sentence:

    I made the sandwich using jelly, peanut butter, and marshmallow.

    Lots of people nowadays would say that you don’t need a comma after peanut butter. I would argue that this incorrectly implies you are using jelly and a concoction of peanut butter and marshmallow (swirled together) on your sandwich.

    Um, YUCK.

    Diana Hacker discusses this very debate on her Rules for Writers website.

    However, thanks to the wonders of social media, today I saw the best illustration of my point that I’ve ever encountered on  In this case, omitting the comma creates an even worse misunderstanding than just lumping the final two items together!

    I also learned that my favorite kind of comma (as described above) is called an Oxford comma.  You learn something new every day!  Not even Hacker told me that.

    So next time you’re tempted to cave to pressure and omit the final comma in a series, you can stop and think about Hacker, strippers, and JFK and Stalin (whoops!).  Just say no to unintended pairings!

  9. Unplug

    September 25, 2011 by asteffann

    In my first advertising job, I was fortunate enough to work in the presence of a seasoned copywriter named Luke Sullivan. I was just a lowly assistant account executive, but he was already one of the agency greats and I knew it. Eventually, I moved on to advance my account management career in another city, at other agencies.  One day, after nearly ten years, I left the business and became a teacher of writing.

    On a chilly night in 2009, I was looking for a book in a deserted section of the George Mason University library, to support an article I was writing for graduate degree.  To my surprise, I pulled a book off the shelf that was authored by Luke Sullivan. Of course I read it cover-to-cover with glee.  I recognized so much of what he described in the book, and I really appreciated his wisdom about how to write great ads and how to work with people of all types.

    I’m telling you all of this because Luke recently wrote a post for his blog Hey Whipple that touches on a topic so many of us can relate to. He suggests learning to turn off distractions when we’re writing…for any reason.  We think we can multi-task but, as he argues, that tendency can really just be a disguise for all kinds of procrastination. Next time you’re blocked on a paper, try pulling out the earbuds, turning off the smartphone, and closing Facebook. You might surprise yourself with how much you can achieve!

    Check Luke Sullivan’s blog out – especially if you’re thinking of a career in marketing or advertising…or anything, really. He’s just smart.

  10. Adapting Your Style

    September 22, 2011 by asteffann

    It’s natural to feel frustrated when bosses and professors ask you to write in a way that doesn’t feel natural to you.  Many students argue that, if everyone their age talks a certain way, it’s fake to have to change their speaking and writing style to be more formal, just to suit the expectations of people at school and in the workplace.  The reality is, however, that how you communicate at school and in the workplace can affect how people view your potential to excel.

    When I was a young professional in the early nineties (just starting out) I had to work really hard to get ride of the “valley girl” speak discussed in this brief article I found on CNN.  Like the woman who is the subject of the article, I constantly said “like” and ended some of my sentences on “up” notes, making it sound like I was both young and unsure of myself.

    Writing in an overly colloquial style can create similar problems in the workplace and in your classes.  As a result, I try to stress to all my students that their conversational ways are not wrong – the are just not appropriate for academic and business writing!