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Frances Ce Liang

Professor Erin Dietel-Mclaughlin


9 September 2014

The Family Poem

When I reflect on my early life as a child, a little girl who was born and raised in a
traditional, large yet close-knit family in Northern China, I can hardly recollect
encountering anything related to modern technology. Video games, computers, and
blockbuster films were so far away from my childhood life, in which reading and
drawing for fun took most of my days and nights. Indeed, a large black television sat in
my grandparents living room, and it was through this screen, which was no wider than
the cover of a textbook, that I saw the faces of the celebrities whose names I heard on the
radio thousands of times, sneaked a glimpse of the TV dramas that my parents forbade
me from watching, and caught the vision of the land of the United States, the country in
which I currently live, for the first time.

The television was so much like a window to me; it was through this that I saw and
gradually got to know the world outside of my plain life as a young Asian girl, but the
piece of technology that shaped my identity, and even revised my fate, was a cellphone
my grandfathers, out-of-date, time-worn cellphone that can no longer be found in

markets nowadays.

It is said, that elderly people are slow or even unwilling to accept up-to-date technology,
but this has never been the case with my grandfather. Disregarding the objections of his
own wife and children, grandpa brought this brick-sized piece of technology into our
family, and of course it cost a fortune. Gradually, he learned to type, to send messages
and even to connect it to Internet, leaving his family totally dumbfounded. After he came
home from work everyday, he spent the nights practicing, trying to push each small
button and form words from individual letters. Undoubtedly, it was by no means an easy
job for him. As my grandpa never had a chance to learn Pinyin, Romanized form of the
Chinese language introduced in 1960s, he began to learn this language system, which was
completely foreign to him, along with me, his little granddaughter of age 5. We both tried
hard. I treasured the nights when I would sit on the stone chair in our back yard, enjoying
the fragrance of Chinese roses blooming in the night, and practicing writing Pinyin letters
on my notebook over and over again, while grandpa would spend hours working on his
cellphone, trying to remember each and every letter, and linking them into words. I
would burst into laughter every time I saw a word that looked like an emerald in the
white moonlight jump onto the phones tiny screen, and grandpa would smile back at me,
his eyes full of tenderness and love. One night, when he finished typing, he showed me
the small screen he had worked on for the whole evening, I saw four lines of characters
flashing. The family poem.

Read it, read it aloud. Grandpa murmured softly, tapping on the head of his little

granddaughter. I did so.

Acceptance is the foundation of life,
Day by day the teachings of Confucius resound.
Wealth and fame are ephemeral
But righteousness and family are forever.

This is the very poem grandpa typed on his cellphone when he first learned to type, and
the one he now cherishes the most. As you know, I may forget this poem as I am getting
old, but the digital words will never fade. As long as I keep my cellphone, I can keep this
poem forever. Explained my grandpa.

I knew for sure that this poem, written by one of my ancestors, is a symbol of my
grandfathers family, which was once wealthy and prosperous. Every time a boy is born
into the family, he is named after a character in the family poem. My grandpa's prominent
family members were casualties of the Chinese Civil War in the mid-1940s. After his
parents passed away and his siblings died prematurely, the family fortune was also wiped
out. My grandfather's only inheritance was the family poem. Over a period of sixty
years, grandpa pitted his strength to raise his family by working a number of jobs. He was
a farmer, a factory worker, and eventually, a teacher. During all this time, the poem
sustained him, gave him the courage to fit into new environments, and somehow
motivated his passion to try new lifestyles. I guess it is what motivated him to purchase a
cellphone as soon as it was introduced to China, when the majority of people around him
had not yet accepted it.

Try something new. These three simple words were the central principle by which my
grandfather lived. Raised, loved and educated by my grandfather, I naturally accepted it
over time as the principle by which I lived my own life. Years later, when the cellphone
became a common piece of technology used by millions of people on this planet, I could
always recall the nights when my grandpa typed in the white moonlight, with his glasses
on the forehead and shirt permeated by sweat. This image kept flashing in my mind, and
eventually became the core of my literary world: never be afraid of accepting new
literacy media that may benefit my learning sooner or later. Grandpas old cellphone
taught me this lesson.

With the fast-paced development of new technology and the community in which I lived,
the screens that were absent from my childhood became popular and common in my
teenage years. It was such an exciting time when I first learnt to type on my first
computer at the age of nine because it reminded me of those tender evenings I spent with
grandpa. I can not remember exactly when I first tried to write my first essay on my
personal computer; I can not remember to which editor from which newspaper I sent my
work, nor can I recall the exact amount of payment that I received for my first published
article, but I do remember the smile on my grandfathers face full of endless tenderness
and love, and his affectionate voice congratulating me for my success. Your girl is such
a gifted writer! my neighbors, relatives and friends exclaimed to my parents. I was
proud, and arrogant, and regarded myself as unbeatable.

These were definitely my days. As a kid who was always the top student in the class and
spoiled by awards and the praise of others, I never tasted the bitterness of failure and
thought I never would. However, one day, at the beginning of the semester, the teacher
announced the list of students who were selected to compete in the writing competition, I
was shocked and hurt by the fact that my name was not in the list. At that moment,
jealousy, grief, and hatred filled my heart. I collapsed, burst into tears and could not help
crying until the teacher called my mom to take me home. They are sneering at me
because I am a loser, I told myself. At that moment, I cursed my own failure.

My parents brought me to grandfather because they knew that he was the only one in the
family who could console me. Grandpa sat down on his old creaking chair, and tapped on
my head. I once again felt the warmth of his special affection. Grandpa opened his
drawer, took out his time-worn cellphone, and the familiar poem was in sight. Read it,
he told me, and I did.

Acceptance is the foundation of life,

Day by day the teachings of Confucius resound.
Wealth and fame are ephemeral
But righteousness and family are forever.

Wealth and fame are ephemeral, but righteousness and family are forever. grandfather
repeated, tapping my head gently. With no more words to say, I finally understood the
essence of the poem and what grandfather tried to teach me. During the past 71 years, my

grandfather experienced so many hardships that were far more severe than the ones I
encountered in my easy childhood. When frustration arose, hard times approached, he put
the past fame of the family and all the treasure he once had away from his mind, but
never the virtues of his ancestors, who wished every generation of people in our family to
be kind, be tough, and never complain. Staring at the words on the flashing screen, I
knew it was time to abandon all the pride and honor I once cherished and from which I

I spent the first 10 years of my life with my grandpa, my personality shaped, vision
cleared and characters developed. The night before I departed to reunite with my parents
who were working in a faraway city, my aging grandpa sat down on his old creaking
chair, and tapped my head. He opened his drawer, took out his cellphone (which was so
worn-out that it was hardly a cellphone), and gently placed it in my pocket.

I said: Grandpa, what are you doing? I have memorized this poem and can even recite
it to you. You need it more than I do.

My grandpa just looked at me, eyes full of love and kindness that all his years of
suffering could not diminish. He replied: Grandpa is getting old and will not be with
you for long, and I am giving you back to the care of your parents. Listen to me, and keep
the poem. You will remember what grandpa has taught you all these years every time you
see it. He touched a button, the screen flashed, and the poem was in sight. Grandpas
finger slid on each and every word on the screen, as if to squeeze them into my heart.

And my grandpa succeeded. He is and has always been the one who could calm me when
I panic, guide me when I am lost and help me out when I am in the abyss of despair. I
have an online talk with him every week, no matter where I am, at home or studying
abroad. Setting aside all my papers and homework for a while, putting on a nice-looking
T-shirt and opening Skype, I connect with him through the 11-inch screen of my laptop
regardless of how many mountains and oceans lie between us. I bet you would be
surprised to know that he actually learnt to use Skype at the age of 72, but it is not
surprising to me at all. After all, he is the man who brought the first screen to my life. A
childhood hero, an omnipotent.

Many years have gone by, I stuck to what I learned from those gentle conversations with
my grandfather, the essence of the family poem, and the tenet of his life. Instead of being
jealous, I showed a polite smile to my opponent when I was so close to the honor of top
speaker but was beaten by an arrogant boy in the debate tournament; instead of
complaining uselessly, I improved my script in order to meet the standards of the picky
visitors when I worked voluntarily at the local museum; instead of bursting into cry and
asking mother for comforting, I went to the community clinic on my own when I broke
my bone in the long-distance race; and instead of fearing the failure and basking in the
success I have achieved, I have gradually learned to appreciate my rivals and focus on the
future opportunities of success, never allowing jealousy and the excessive desire to be
preeminent to dominate my character.

Sixty years ago, my Grandfather lost both his family and its wealth. He lived a very
difficult life with such courage and spirit, and still inspires me. Today I move forward
with the most treasured heirloom of my great family and culture, stored carefully in my
mind and heart.

I am proud to be its chosen keeper. The family poem, the screens connecting my grandpa
and I, and the spirit cherished by both of us, still enable me to face the world with a brave

Reflection: Struggling with My First Audio Narrative

Two weeks ago, as an international student who stood on the land of South Bend for the
first time, and was fascinated by gorgeous campus, meeting new people and all the fancy
activities during the frosh-o, I never realized that I would face such a challenging
assignment within several days: an essay, an audio essay, my first audio essay.

To be honest, I was quite confused about the theme of this class, multimedia writing
during the first 2 weeks of this semester. To make sure that my newly added Japanese
class fit my schedule, I dropped my old writing and rhetoric class and added this class,
multimedia writing, under the suggestion of my advisor, who addressed Dr. Erin as the
most awesome writing instructor in this school. Fortunately, she surely is.

Confused by the exact definitions of multimedia writing, digital literacy, audio narrative,
and so many words and terms such as those I mentioned above, I started to draft my
paper. Reading Shitty First Draft did make me feel much better and somehow offered
some confidence. I thought what I should to was merely to write down what came into
my mind and I could end up with a stream-of-consciousness masterpiece like On The
Road. Unfortunately, I am way less gifted than Jack Kerouac, so after sitting in front of
my laptop for 2 hours, I had typed only one word, which is draft.

The first major problem I was facing was the difficulty in interpreting the topic. When I
heard that I was supposed to write about the role that screens play in my life, I was quite

surprised, because according to my writing experience, this one seemed too shallow to be
the topic of an assignment in a college writing class. Educated under the public education
system of China, I am pretty familiar with the topics such as Write about your opinions
on Critique of Practical Reason by Kant, but I could hardly figure out any connections
between media or technology and the events which have an intense impact on my life.

After 3 days of struggling, I decided to think of a life-changing event that can be narrated
as a touching story, and then try to figure out its connection with technology. This
strategy worked. In fact, when I reflected on my life, the first person who came into my
mind was my grandpa, who named, raised, cared and loved me. It was he who taught me
everything during the first 10 years of my life, and all the turning points in my life so far
have something to do with him. However, the second problem that I faced was that, once
I decided to write about my grandpa, I was overwhelmed by so many events or emotions
that I wanted to address in my paper. As a result, when I finished my shitty second draft,
it was an 8-page paper, lengthy and awful, even a little bit off-topic. I have to admit that
it was the darkest time during the 4 days that I spent on drafting my paper.

Luckily, I once again got the inspiration from my affectionate grandpa. As I mentioned in
my paper, I still have a routinely video talk with my grandpa every week despite the
distance between us. During our last talk, I expressed my delima and got several pieces of
useful advice from my grandpa, who worked as a part-time writer before he retired. One
of the most helpful advices is that I should elaborate on the paragraphs that are related to
the topic, which is the role that technology or media play in my life, and delete the parts

about other events that have nothing to do with the topic no matter how much they mean
to me. Also, the long lost memory about grandpas first cellphone, which is a main
symbol in my essay, and our stories related with it was back again when we talked about
the days we spent together. After the talk, I was quite clear about what to do.

Accepting the suggestions from my grandpa and several friends to whom I read my
paper, I elaborated on the cellphone part and focused on how it has changed my
personality, followed by a life-changing event with tension and resolution, and at last I
emphasized the fact that the screen still serves as a strong connection between grandpa
and I. On the other hand, I deleted a part of my story, in which I talked about the issue of
the inequity between boys and girls in China, because it is a little bit extreme and has
nothing to do with the topic. Since it is my own life story and every word I wrote was an
expression of my love and respect for my grandfather, I even cried a little on finishing the
last paragraph.

Last but not least, I had better be honest about all the help that I got when drafting my
paper. Definitely I got the inspiration, advice and the courage to finish this challenging
job from my grandfather. I read my second draft to several of my friends who are
sophomores and juniors in order to hear their suggestions. What is more, since I am not a
native speaker and is quite worried about the language in my essay, I had a friend who
was born and raised in the US point out some languages errors. I sincerely hope that my
final draft could earn the appreciation from my listeners.