Wednesday, May 18, 2022

A Contemplative Approach to Prewriting: The Higher "Why"

A Subtle Shift in Thinking

In an article entitled "Embracing the Higher Why," writer Danielle Poitras interviews Lyndsay Farrant, who holds an MA in Transpersonal Counseling Psychology and is the Executive Director of Strategic Projects at Naropa University. Farrant introduces the idea that when we ask "why," we often follow our response with a "because." As an alternative, we may sometimes want to practice contemplating "why" followed by "in order to." When we ask "'why in order to,'" we are embracing "'the higher why,'" the "'why that embraces curiosity and meaning and involves questioning and looking at fresh perspectives'" (Poitras 25). 

When writers ask "why in order to" instead of "why because," they think more divergently about their topics during the prewriting step of the writing process, which elevates and strengthens their argumentative essays.

Enthymemes: Reason or Purpose

One common way to formulate a thesis statement in an argumentative essay is to construct an enthymeme, a statement of the writer's position and the word "because" followed by a reason why the writer has come to that conclusion. The following is a simple enthymeme: "The campus should institute a recycling program because it will help the environment." As an alternative, the writer might formulate an enthymeme with a "higher why," such as "The campus should institute a recycling program in order to help the environment." 

How are these different?

Using the subordinating conjunction "because" indicates the writer is about to present a reason why they have come to adopt a particular position. It indicates the writer has looked at evidence that had already been written and documented. There is a sense the writer is looking to the past to come to a conclusion and is asking the reader to do the same.

Using the subordinating conjunction "in order to" indicates the writer is about to present a purpose for their position. It indicates the writer is looking into the future and anticipating outcomes that align with their position and purpose. The writer in this scenario is asking the reader to do the same.

Although the language itself is only subtly different, the way the writer is asking readers to think about a topic are quite different: It's the difference between looking at what has happened, unchangeable, and that which has yet to happen, a future with an abundance of possibility. 

Shifting Thoughts from Past to Future

When faculty or mentors ask students why they are interested in a specific major or career path, students may respond with, "I want to be a psychologist because it sounds interesting," or "I want to be a nurse because I want to help people." While a connection to the future is implied in these responses, it becomes a direct connection when students apply the "higher why." "I want to be a psychologist in order to lead an interesting life," or "I want to be a nurse in order to continue helping people." Whereas the initial statements indicate the student has looked back at their lives or have read evidence about being a psychologist or being a nurse, the revised statements clearly indicate the students have shifted their thinking to the future. 

Even in more scholarly essays or research papers, the shift can be profound. A poorly articulated thesis such as "Research shows working outdoors is beneficial for students," might be shifted using the "higher why" to "Working outdoors is a beneficial pedagogical method teachers use in order to incorporate experiential learning." The experiment in thinking of the "higher why" yields results both in the writer's ability to develop an idea and to articulate it as a well-written thesis.

 To return to the words of Lyndsay Farrant used to open this post, there is a "higher why," we can access when we explore not only the "because" but the "in order to." Shifting the use of language, even ever so slightly, allows writers to  embrace curiosity, explore meaning, and "involves questioning and looking at fresh perspectives'" (Poitras 25). 

Works Cited

Poitras, Danielle. "Embracing the Higher Why: The Entrepreneurial Mindset of Naropa Students." Naropa Magazine 2021-22, pp. 23-25.

Friday, October 8, 2021

How to Build Dungeon Tiles and Terrain: Felt Four Ways

Felt is an inexpensive and easy medium to use to create dungeon tiles and battle map terrain for a tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) like Dungeons and Dragons. 

Felt comes in a variety of thicknesses, sizes, colors, and textures, and it's easily shaped into tiles and maps using a ruler, a fine tip marker or fabric chalk, some good craft scissors, a glue gun, and a plentiful batch of glue gun sticks. With the addition of a few needle-felting supplies, like felting needles, a felting pad, and wool roving or wool top coat, felt can even be used to create 3-dimensional objects or blended surface colors.

Mosaic-Style Interior Build

The mosaic-style build is a great option when duplicating a previously published map with complicated forms, like from an official Wizards of the Coast adventure that includes circular or organic spaces, like towers and caverns. The major benefits of using this building method include the ease of creating a measured replica and the end product having a usable grid and engaging texture.

At its most basic, a mosaic-style build is simply a matter of counting out and cutting enough squares to fit each room of a build. After cutting enough squares to meet the specifications of the map, they can be arranged in the pre-established pattern on a large base, leaving base-color gaps or using base-color squares for walls and doorways, depending on the map.

For example, as shown in figure 1, a mosaic build of a 4” tower room requires 12 full tiles and 4 triangles to complete the room. The outer walls can also be constructed using 1” tiles of a varying color, depending on the size indicated on the map that’s being duplicated, or a builder may want to use ¼” or ½” rectangles or squares to match previously built dungeon or terrain tiles.

Figure 1.

Measured Interior with ¼, ½, or 1-Inch Walls

Sometimes maps, especially those consisting mostly of interiors or stand-alone buildings, do not require grids in order to calculate movement. A game master might simply know that a room is 4” across and therefore know how much of a character’s movement it takes to cross the room or how far a spell can travel. Alternatively, rulers can be used to calculate distances in rooms without grids. The benefits of gridless tiles are the ease and efficiency of creating them and the “less busy” look of the finished product.

Creating rooms without grids requires, like the mosaic-type build, careful measuring and marking. If the map requires a 20’ x 40’ room, and 1” = 5’, the room itself will need to be 4” x 8” plus the additional space required to create walls. A room with ¼” walls will need to be 4 ½ by 8 ½ inches, for example. The example in figure 2 shows a 4” x 4” inch room that’s been cut at 4 ½” x 4 ½” to accommodate ¼” walls. The two doorways are 1” across.

Gridless tiles can also be used to create new and original configurations. The grey tiles with cream walls shown below are based on a 4" x 4" set, and I've added doors, stairs, larger rooms based on the 4" x 4" measurements, and a 4" x 6" tower room. 

When building multiple rooms that fit tightly together, it sometimes helps to create the build on a large base and later cut the rooms along the walls. Parts of the map can be added during a session as characters explore the space, or an uncut map can be revealed by uncovering parts of it as the character’s explore. 

Figure 2.

Felt dungeon tiles
4" x 4" Dungeon Tiles with 1" Walls


Including needle-felted elements in a build adds both texture and dimension. A needle-felted base can be constructed by carefully measuring and marking squares onto plain craft felt and using core wool or top wool to create the grid pattern. The colors of wool roving can be blended to good effect, and with some work, 3-dimensional objects can be constructed: firepits, boulders, boxes, sacks, greenery, and other reusable elements. 

Felted grids can be used as a base battle map for outdoor spaces, as a base for stand-alone buildings, or as a gridded area within a build’s negative space, as shown in figure 3. 

Figure 3.

Hints and Tips

No matter which type of felt build a person chooses, there are some general hints and tips for the felt build

  • Measure carefully before cutting. 
  • Arrange pieces (walls, tiles, doors) before gluing.
  • Only glue those elements that will never be removed or that need to be used elsewhere.
  • Glue on a protected surface to avoid damaging a table or countertop.
  • Glue carefully. Hot glue is very hot.
  • Felt safely. Felting needles are very sharp.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Illustrated Maps: A Cartography Project


Hand Illustrated Map of Manhattan by Kening Zhu
Hand Illustrated Map of Manhattan
by Kening Zhu
Used with CC License
Some of my favorite types of artwork to scroll through online are illustrated or cartoon maps. They remind me of the map I picked up in the student center when I first moved to college. One side depicted the campus, mostly green with grassy areas and tree-lined campus paths, with each building on campus illustrated in an outlandish, yet aesthetically pleasing, perspective and scale. The reverse side was the entire city, covered with illustrations for local bars, coffee shops, restaurants, off-campus book and comic shops, thrift, and specialty stores. The names of the roads were impeccably hand-lettered, and the legend clearly labeled all of the important places, like the hospital, the police and fire stations, and the public parking areas. The map was gridded and included lists of places by name and grid identification. The compass rose was cleverly and artistically incorporated into the wooded area to the south of town. 

I picked up that map over twenty years ago, and I can still picture it clearly. It made an impression. That map represented my home, new at the time, but familiar after my five years of undergraduate courses. I suspect there's a lot we can learn about ourselves if we attempt to map such a concept as "home."

Step One: Defining "Home"

The first step in this personal cartography project is to define "home."

"Home" is not always delineated as simply as my introductory map example might suggest. "Home" is complicated. "Home" often includes, but is not limited to a house, and at the end of the day when someone says, "I'm heading home," they might mean their house. However, if someone was going on vacation, they might also respond, "I'm heading home," but mean the place where they grew up. This might be entirely different from where a person feels most "at home." For some, a special place in the woods where they first went camping feels the most "like home." For others, their grandparents' property most fits their definition of "home." Although very rarely just a single house, "home" might evoke a collage of houses, all linked by the roads and bridges and telephone lines that keep a family connected. "Home" might be a hotel room or a specific aisle in a specific library. "Home" might be a neighborhood or college campus. Some "homes"  have no boundaries at all, and when asked, a person might tell you the world is their "home," or wherever they currently live is their "home."  Some people, on the other hand, have no answer ready and haven't considered the question until asked. Each response depends entirely on a person's experiences in the world and their reactions to those experiences, both positive and negative.

Step Two: Narrowing the Topic

After defining "home" based on personal experiences, the second step is to narrow the scope of the cartography project. 

Just as when narrowing a writing topic, the scope of a map can be narrowed by choosing an intended audience. For example, if the intended audience is "family members," including the homes of all the family members would be important, so the boundary of the map should encompass all the homes. The intended audience might also be a group of friends who play a table-top role playing game together. Perhaps their "home" is a specific location or area on a fantasy map. A couple who takes a meaningful road trip might choose to map the path and places of interest as a memento for themselves.

A second way to narrow the scope of the project is to construct a theme or motif.  A meaningful map might include all places a person has kayaked, canoed, or rafted, especially if that person feels "at home" when engaged with those activities. A foodie might mark all of their favorite hometown restaurants on a map. A person living in a new place might take the opportunity to walk their new neighborhood and construct a map from memory afterwards to mark the occasion, or a person who'll soon be moving might want to construct a map of the place they'll be leaving.

Step Three: Drawing and Labeling Places and Landmarks 

The third step of the personal cartography project requires ranking landmarks and places. 

"Home" becomes a matter of inclusion and exclusion as map-makers finish deciding where to place boundaries and begin to decide which places or landmarks will be included or emphasized on the map. A person's house may have prominence and be placed in the center of the map, or a series of places might be of equal importance and be drawn around a central point. Places that have more importance might be drawn larger than places of lesser importance. The importance of specific roads will determine the level at which the map is drawn, as well. If all important locations are on major roads, only major roads might be labeled. If some important locations are on minor roads or side streets, the maker will have to decide if labeling the side streets is important. The maker will have to decide the scale or "zoom level" of their map. 

Step Four: Taking Pencil to Paper

The final step of the personal cartography project is taking pencil to paper and making the map. 

After deciding which important landmarks and places will be emphasized and labeled within the confines of the boundary of the map, a maker must take pencil to paper and begin making the map. Taking pencil to paper is simply one option, though. The map can be constructed isometrically using computer software or special drawing paper and tools. The map might be painted in watercolor, or it could be constructed using collage techniques. The map might be created using a vintage style, in fantasy style, or look more like a cartoon. It could be meticulously created in CAD. The decisions about the style and form of the map might be made based on pragmatic matters, like budget, skillset, and time constraints, or it might be more meaningful. For example, a watercolor map of places a person has made plein air paintings would be reiterative.

Postcard Map of the Lake District
Postcard Map of the Lake District 
Used with CC License
 I suspect there's a lot we can learn about ourselves if we attempt to map such a concept as "home."

The more I've travelled, the more of those same types of city maps I've encountered. I've collected a number of similar-looking Discovery Map International tourist maps and MapCo Marketing event maps. I've drawn maps in art journals and even attempted postcard maps. Sometimes the map-making occurs spontaneously and I can think about my choices after the fact, and sometimes it's meticulously planned. Some have been successful, and others were simply steps in the process of becoming better - better at understanding myself, a better artist, better at remembering a place or how it evoked a certain feeling.

 Sometimes the maps evoke powerful feelings of home, depending on my affection for the city. However, the more important considerations are how I choose to define the map, its intended audience or purpose, and any thematic or meaningful principles. 

Each day might, in that way, bring a new map onto the page.