All posts by Ravynn Stringfield

I care a lot about books, and telling people about the books, and writing about the books, and writing my own stuff. I like reading comics and talking about race in America and reviewing things. And making things. I also really enjoy making things.

Creative Note-taking

If you follow me on Twitter, or on my creative instagram account (@RavynnCreates), you know that I love creating aesthetically pleasing notes. People often have questions about them, so I thought I’d create a FAQ post about my notes.

  1. Why do you make your notes like that?

Well, first, it’s super fun! I love making things. It also helps me focus, and it makes my notes easier to read and study when I have to go back to them.

2. What do you mean it helps you focus?

Making creative notes is almost like making a mind map. I think about the relationship of sections and words. For example, if we’re talking about the features of the “Classical Hollywood Narration,” it helps to make that heading large, and make the features smaller underneath, or close to the heading. Sometimes it helps to box things in so I know everything in that section goes together. It can also help to color code. If my heading is gold, I might use a different gold pen to number or bullet point everything that falls under that category. Sometimes I use a combination of all of these methods.

3. Do you make them during class? Like while the professor is lecturing?

Yep. Again, it helps me focus.

4. So you don’t just take quick notes and then rewrite them?

No. I do not.

5. What do you use to take notes? Pens? Notebooks?

My semester notebook is a burgundy Leuchtturm A4+ Master Slim with 121 dotted pages that I got from Jenni Bick in Dupont Circle in DC. Yes, it is personalized.

I use a variety of different pens. For headings and small brush lettering, I use Pentel Sign pens. For shadows and highlights, I use Mildliner Brush Pens. For detailing, I use Metallic Gelly Roll pens. For regular writing, my main text, I most often use a Lamy Safari fountain pen. If I’m not feeling the Lamy (or if I have run out of ink), I use Zebra Sarasa 0.7 ballpoint pens.

6. Wow, that’s really specific. Why do you use those brands?

Leuchtturm journals have thick pages that don’t ghost (show ink on the other side) and they are pre-numbered. Pentel pens are super reliable, and they come in really great, bold colors. Mildliners, I don’t use as much, but I still like them for background and contrast. Gelly Roll pens have really strong color, and they’re also reliable and relatively easy to find. I’m using a Lamy pen because I wanted a good fountain pen and I thought it might be cool to invest in a utensil that I would love to use. It’s beautiful and yellow and I do in fact love it! When my students from Keio offer me stationery gifts, they’re often Sarasa/Zebra pens and Japanese stationery is the best, so usually I’m just using the pens they gift me.

7. So do you just, like, travel with all those notebooks and pens?

Yep.

8. How many pens and notebooks do you carry with you daily?

Between 2-3 journals. I always have my semester bullet journal with me and I often have my dissertation journal. Sometimes I’ll bring my leather bound diary if I haven’t written in a while.

I honestly don’t know how many pens I have at any given time. I have at least 3 of each type of pen in different colors (except the Lamy) in my purse. I mean…probably at least two dozen.

9. Do you let people borrow your pens?

No.

10. Really?

Really. I keep a couple of regular Bic ballpoint pens in my purse to give to my students if they need a writing utensil in a pinch.

11. But how do you make such pretty pages?

Honestly, I don’t know. It’s the equivalent of doodling. My hands just kind of do their own thing. I don’t lay out my spreads prior to class, they just sort of happen. I more or less start on the top left of the page and just build from there.

12. Do you have any suggestions for folks that want to try creative notetaking?

I do! First, try not to take it so seriously; let it happen naturally. The more you try to make it pretty, the more pressure you put on yourself and then you likely won’t be satisfied with the way your notes look. Second, experiment with fonts and colors in relation to others on the page. If you have a keyword in gold script on the right in a square with writing around it, maybe try bold blue uppercase letters for your next piece. Third, practice! I’ve been making notes like this for years and it took me a while to get to a point where I could make these pages. Lastly, comparison is the thief of joy. Your notes will not look like mine. My notes will not look like yours. Embrace the uniqueness of this little way of expressing yourself!

“Double Consciousness” Recap: “What Makes Up a Black Girl?”

“Stamped with a magic so spiritual that angels and colonizers alike wanna get like us.”

The long-awaited webseries, Black Enough, which premiered on Sunday, begins with a question: “What makes up a Black girl?” As the narrator lists the many things which she believes may make up a Black girl, we are treated to visual texture. The movement, the 16 mm film and the substance (which might be a tangible representation of Black Girl Magic) juxtaposed with the spoken poetry inform the viewer that this experience will require engagement and critical reflection.

After all, when was the last time you wondered what makes up a Black girl? For me, it’s a daily ritual, akin to a prayer, to daydream about the magic from which we are created. I find wonder in our quotidian experiences, like focusing on the details of the protagonist, Amaya’s (Tiffany Gordon), college dorm room, getting to know her, and learning her uniqueness. While she’s at peace in her own space, we begin to see her fractures: Amaya is unsure of herself around Lena, her friend from home; at least somewhat interested in making friends with her white roommate who has no home training; and searching for something.

When we see Amaya later in the episode watching a Brownskinned_Barbie (Brandi Jaray Mcleain) YouTube video, attempting to do her hair, viewers understand that she is reaching for this idea of Black Girl Perfection. There is a desire, however slight, to be like Brownskinned_Barbie– pretty, cool, and popular with 4a curls that act right after a single spritz of water. But more than that, Brownskinned_Barbie represents a crucial piece of Amaya’s identity struggle: her hair. Maybe Brownskinned_Barbie is not perfect, but she knows how to make her hair shiny, defined and moisturized– a Black Girl Superpower Trifecta I have yet to perfect. Amaya begins to connect her identity as a Black girl to the appearance of her hair, believing that her hair and her soul need to be in alignment. (For more Black women writing about hair as an extension of self and self-expression, see Tanisha C. Ford’s work, particularly the chapter “Jheri Curl” in Dressed in Dreams.)

Her self-doubt spirals even deeper as she sits in on the first Black Student Union, led by the seemingly perfect Vaughn (Branika Scott). Vaughn’s “welcome speech,” which details the history of the BSU at Weston and finishes with a poetic embrace of all her “brothers and sisters of the Diaspora,” unsettles Amaya. Only when Vaughn chuckles and says, “You’re already Black so you meet all the requirements, right?” does Amaya leave, feeling as though she did not meet the requirements.

The experience prompts her to create the recipe for a “Black Girl Magic Potion” on her mirror, as she tries to find the secret to a supposedly inherent alchemy we are said to possess. One of the last scenes of this episode is of Amaya circling “Go Natural” on her Potion/list, foreshadowing challenges to come.

Amaya’s story and the poetic narration are woven together with interviews with Black women and girls who reflect on their own experiences with our magic, including words from Hanna Watson, Stephanie Crumpton and myself. Altogether– the poetry both spoken and visual, the story, the interviews, the texture of the 16 mm film with the digital– creates a quilt of different pieces of art that are woven together to create a cohesive story, that wraps you in warmth. The warmth is the result of feeling seen and understood as beautiful. Black Enough leaves you feeling whole, and you, the viewer, want that for Amaya, too.


Further Reading:

Dressed in Dreams: A Black Girl’s Love Letter to the Power of Fashion, Tanisha C. Ford

The Souls of Black Folks, W. E. B. Du Bois

More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say), Elaine Welteroth

Hair,” Elizabeth Acevedo

why you cannot touch my hair,” Eve Ewing


Feature image courtesy of Jeremy Rodney Hall

Teaching Writing

The most gratifying part of being a Teaching Assistant (TA) this semester has been the work I’ve been able to do with students on their writing. I didn’t even realize how important teaching writing was to me until I had to do it. But I love when students email me, knock on my door or catch me after class to ask to work on their papers. I love when I have a question about a sentence or a phrase, then they tell me what they were trying to say, and I’m able to reply, “Yes. You need to write exactly what you just said.” And I love handing back A papers to students who think they’re weak writers because someone told them once upon a time that they weren’t.

I had a chat with my students recently about writing. I encouraged them to shift the way they think about it, with the understanding that in some ways, they can’t. Taking approximately 15-18 credits requires likely dozens of papers a semester and it’s very difficult to give the proper amount of time and attention to each and every paper. You often don’t have the time to write drafts well in advance to get feedback from your professor or TA. You’re simply trying to crank those babies out to make sure you have something to turn in.

When that’s your reality, it’s difficult to think of papers as anything but a means to an end, a hoop you have to jump through. In all honesty, I can count on one hand the number of papers I actually remember writing in undergrad. Remember, as a French and Comparative Literature double major, and an International Relations minor, I probably wrote hundreds of papers. And yet.

Still, with all of that in mind, I still proposed a perspective shift. Instead of thinking of writing as another thing you have to do, think of it as an opportunity to share the thoughts and opinions you have about our films, backed up with evidence and careful analysis.

Yet another problem I’m up against as a TA is the way we present writing as an individualistic enterprise. Because folks have so many papers to write during the semester, it feels like you have to lock yourself up in a study room in the library until you have no more words. I reminded my students that that’s absolutely not how writing works professionally. Every writer that we read in class, every book that you get in the bookstore…all published writers have editors. They have friends and family and mentors that read their words with a red pen of love at the ready. They workshop their words. That’s why the “Acknowledgements” section of books exist. Writing is a communal process, but we present it as something you do alone. So I try to make it as clear as possible that I am willing and able to work with them on their words, because they shouldn’t have to be in this alone.

I try to be as sincere as possible when I tell them I look forward to reading their words. Yes, it is my job to read and comment, but I’m curious as to what they think and how they think, especially if they’re quieter in class and discussion. Papers are a chance for you to flex a little, but it gives you the time and space to think through your response if you’re not as willing to jump in to a conversation with only a half formed thought. I try not to think of their papers as more work for me, but a chance to get to know my students a little better. I think of my comments as engagement with their thoughts.

I perhaps do all of these because I want them to love writing as much as I do. I know my efforts won’t matter to many of them, no perspective shift will occur. And that’s fine. But as long as I’m clear that for at least this semester, they have someone who cares deeply about writing and their words, I will have done my job.

So many articles exist on best writing practices and how the greatest writers write, but so much of that is crap. No, you don’t have to write every day to be an effective writer. You should practice as regularly as you can, but every body is different, every life is different, every circumstance is different. As much as I would love to write fiction all day every day, I mostly write during the summer and winter break when I have extended periods of time to devote to that manuscript. Do I write every day? Mostly every day, yes. But I consider many different things to be a part of the writing process. Tweeting is writing, blogging is writing, journaling is writing, reading is writing, note taking is writing, outlining is writing, drafting is writing, revising and editing is writing. I do at least one or more of those things every single day, but not because I’m practicing every day writing. Writing is part of my self-care, my self-expression, how I feel whole.

What I didn’t know also makes me feel whole is helping someone else craft clear and substantive prose, helping someone find their voice and run with it, and encouraging them at every step of the process. I love being a sounding board, an editor, a cheerleader– all important parts of writing. I love it all. Teaching writing is difficult, as is writing, but I still manage to find joy in it every day.