Challenge Journal: Uncovering the Hidden (in a New Structure)

As I shakily alluded to in class, I went through a last minute project change. I started with a super broad idea of asking activists what freedom means to them, and after meeting with Shelley narrowed it down to the IGR program and asking whether we can use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house¬†through ethnography. After two weeks of intensely procrastinating starting my research and hearing what fun projects others in our class are doing, I realized that I didn’t want to do this. So after some inner searching and talking with Shelley, I have now decided to write a memoir about an internal conflict I’m going through in my real life right now: wanting to leave a community that I’ve spent most of my life with as a person who has changed and possibly grown out of it.

Although I’m much more excited by this project than my previously planned one, I also have several qualms about it. Firstly, I’m terrified to dive into something so personal and intimate in a pretty public space. One of the best (and arguably necessary) parts of writing is its power to illuminate and complicate reality, both as a writer during the process and as a reader after its completion. Even while believing this, it scares me to think that people from our class and potentially future Capstone students will have access to my deeply personal narrative. For this qualm, I would honestly just love a few words of encouragement to help me be brave.

A more technical challenge I’m having is trying to figure out the structure of my memoir. The easiest thing would be to write chronologically about the communities I’ve been a part of throughout my life and who I was at those times, leading into my current situation. However, I’m feeling ambitious to explore non-chronological narrative structures if it’ll help me work through my conflict and truthfully share my story. Last year in English 325, I wrote a narrative piece about gaining my US citizenship: I used the court ceremony as the main event and incorporated thoughts about the entire immigration system and experiences of being a person of color in America throughout the small instances of the day. This is one of the pieces I’m most proud of having written in college so I want to do something similar, but I don’t have any specific event to tie my thoughts back to. It would help if anyone can think of narrative structures that could be useful for my subject, or if anyone even just has examples of memoirs or narratives that they particularly enjoyed that utilize a non-chronological structure.

One thought to “Challenge Journal: Uncovering the Hidden (in a New Structure)”

  1. Hey Minji,
    I really relate hard with you in terms of the procrastination aspect: it does not help either that spring break is starting to wrap up! But I’m glad to see that you decided to diverge from your original capstone project like we talked about in class! That’s awesome that you’re doing something you’re passionate about, I’m really excited to see your journey doing this project!
    In terms of your qualms in making the private-public, I completely understand the concerns you have with that. It’s something that I struggled with throughout the entirety of English 325; I discussed very personal elements in that class, especially regarding my relationship with my family. I was crazy uncomfortable doing that at first, and was still uncomfortable doing so when the class was over. But what got me through it was the fact that by making the private public, I was asserting a form of authority over the subject matter. My initial fear with exposing myself with my writing was that I made myself vulnerable to the public and that my work would be rebuked as a result of it. However, I used that to my advantage to express a universal truth through a lens that no one else could. Perhaps you could try to think of your paper that way: what universal truth are you illustrating, and how are you doing it in a way that is unique to you? Answering these questions might not only help direct the piece, but also instill courage in you to share it with others.
    And in terms of structure, I played around with that in the aforementioned English class as well; some examples that come to mind include a DNA strand essay (where I weaved different tales with a common thread together, like one may imagine with a braid or a double-helix), poetry, and creative non-fiction with reflective elements. Recently in an English 425 class with John Rubadeau (as an aside to any and all readers, I implore you to take this class: it is grueling in work, but VERY much rewarding), I wrote a personal narrative using entirely second person. As weird of a decision as that may sound, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the process in its entirety.
    If you want to talk more about breaking chronological structure or making the private public, feel free to reach out to me: I’m more than happy to share my experiences in either of these aspects of writing! Good luck with the project!

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