Wow

Well, this is it. One of my final assignments in college. I better make it good.

While its finality may seem arbitrary, it’s actually incredibly relevant to my Capstone project. For part of my project, I’m writing a personal reflective essay of my college career, using my a cappella group as a lens. I struggled a lot on how to begin this when I had an a-ha moment when writing my site’s Introductory Essay: when describing big picture what I planned to do in the project, I remembered something I watched a long time ago, Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture. The Last Lecture is the life advice the professor, who would soon pass away from terminal cancer, imparted on the audience. It has two parts which I think are relevant to my project, his childhood dreams and the lessons he’s learned.

I’d like to do something similar: trace my journey through college and reflect on why the group is meaningful to me and what I’ve learned from it. However, that seems like both an incredibly tall order (how can I ever compare to a literal last lecture?) and incredibly cheesy and cliquey (ah, yes, I grew in college). We’ve all had these experiences, plus I’m young. What do my lessons mean? Does me echoing past fables mean anything? Would this essay be an empty gesture, a waste of thought, and a waste of space? Of course, I think it’s valuable to me to get my thoughts down. But my audience is greater than that: it’s my group and other interested parties in my group. Or maybe my audience is just me and this entire project has been a way to create a time capsule of this experience…

Well, have fun psychoanalyzing that! (And please let me know how I can navigate cheesiness, doubt, and meaningless mimicry)

Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start

I’m a planner. From our reading of Tharpe’s 7th chapter, I definitely fall into her ‘trap’ of perfectionism and overthinking structure to different degrees. My writing process always begins with a skeletal outline where I know exactly what I’ll be saying. I’ll have every quote pulled out, all ideas strung together in a logical way, a proofread thesis and organization. My outlines are never super detailed for the exact reason that I need the outline in the first place, I don’t know what I’ll be saying until I’ve thought through everything.

However, I’ve had a lot of trouble finding a way to outline the capstone project. My project will be centered around a commemorative video of my a cappella group that I’ll be playing at the concert right before we sing a song that I arranged and am teaching to the group. The first challenge is that I have very little experience making videos. How do I know what to include or not? What’s the best way to tell the story I want to tell in this medium to this (literal) audience?

For this piece, I looked back at my Remediation Project from the gateway because that was the first video project I’ve attempted at that point and since. I got a few pointers: go in knowing the script, and orient the visual to the audio. My problem is that I’ll be collecting the audio up until the concert and, by virtue of it being an a cappella group with loads of videos, there’s sooo much visual and additional audio I have access to. As Tharpe says, “Whom the gods wish to destroy, they give unlimited resources,” (129). Does anyone have any tips on how to narrow down visual material and how to create a script that is always evolving as I get more material? Or is the script -> visual not the right approach in the first place?

Creative research

When writing up my proposal and research list for this week, I realized that my greatest problem right now is researching for creative projects. I have a lot of research experience under my belt already: I did a summer research program through the Sociology department, I’m currently writing an honors thesis in Women’s Studies, and my job requires that I research faculty and staff to come up with appropriate interview questions. However, all of these are different from researching for creative work.

According to the MiW research guide, I satisfy content-based research by interviewing people; that’s an integral part of my capstone project. For genre-based research, I’m citing instructional videos on film videography and editing. What’s missing, however, is actual examples of my project’s genre I can watch. Learning the mechanics of video-making and interviewing people is very different from actually watching videos I can draw upon. I’ve only found one example so far, one that I cited in my previous Challenge Journal, the U-M Men’s Glee Club premiere video of two of their pieces. I’d like to find more videos like this that explore the creative journey that led to the song, however I don’t even know how to describe it to the Google machine.

I don’t have much creative work to draw from, so I hearkened back to a high school classic, Agua Bonito, a Spanish class-sponsored remix of Britney’s “…Baby One More Time.” (Which I, coincidentally, sang for my a cappella group last semester!) As I recall, the project required using our newly-learned verb tense, and BOMT fit the bill. In terms of research, we watched the music video many times, surveyed other music videos for cut scenes that we could use, and discerned the meaning of the song to help us come up with lyrics for our own (within our limited capacities, of course). I’ve done some of these steps already: I (tried to) look(ed) up other videos and I’ve chosen my video genre based on the project’s meaning. My problem is not that I don’t know what to do, it’s that I don’t know where/how to begin looking for videos like above one from the Glee Club. If you have any insights into potential research avenues, I’d be very grateful!

Challenge Journal 1: Genre

One of my struggles this week was deciding on the genre for my Capstone project. I know what topic I want it to be and, generally, its purpose–a reflection of my time in my a cappella group (though audience(s) and ‘research’ question are still in-progress, too)–however I was struggling on how to best approach my chosen medium of a video. One of the big pieces of my project is a video of a song I am arranging and teaching to my group, so video is important to capturing the sound and mood of the piece (just audio wouldn’t capture my planned choreography, nor any other performance aspects of the performance, like singers’ facial features).

For inspiration, I looked back at a video of the Men’s Glee Club (embedded below). I was in the club when this was filmed but, sadly, unavailable for the shoot. However, the video is very similar to what I want to do. It examines the context of the highlighted piece, the perspectives of those involved, and it situates the piece in the greater context of the art world. I want to do that for my project. It also gives a prime example of a genre I can borrow from; however, I’m still debating on whether I want my project’s tone to be so professional or if I want it to be less professional and more intimate (as was my original intention for the project) or, even, to lighten it up with something like this.

I guess what I’m most struggling with right now is how to balance (a) my original desire for this to be a reflective, relatively-serious piece, (b) my (very) limited videography skills, which may limit the tone, and (c) a conscientiousness for my audience, as I know that a project that’s too personal would be off-putting to those not part of my target audience (which, again, begs the question of what my audience is! Is it myself, my a cappella group, potential auditionees, the art critic world? What do you think is most prudent?)

 

(EDIT: I realize that the above videos probably don’t qualify as something that I’ve done in the past, though I do vividly remember the Glee Club making the video. However, I can add in one more logical link. I also looked back on my Remediation from the Gateway, which helped jog my memory of various other video formats I’ve been a part of. To make the link more direct, these videos are one of the reasons that I’m hesitant to do a more professional tone because these ones–which are not professional–were many, many hours of work without fancy videography, and with that added learning curve it’s not reasonable to expect high professionalism. People work full-time on these types of videos and they still take them weeks or months!)

Ritual: Organize

As my (our) college career comes to an end, I’ve done a lot of writing that I’m not familiar with, namely cover letters. The problem with cover letters is that I’m told they should be formulaic, but I’m not a formulaic writer. Where some people write them like Mad Libs- filling in the spaces with the proper names, adjectives, and experiences- the only part that remains the same for me is the signature. There’s a general structure, of course, but from there I have a desperate desire to precisely tailor myself for the position (I can’t control my resume, at this point, but I can control the quality of my cover letter!).

From here it seems I have no ritual to my writing; even comparing it to writing essays or the (veeery rare) journal entry, there’s very little that connects them because I can’t bring myself to follow a mold. I have to approach everything on its own terms or else I feel like it restricts my thoughts, which makes my writing process lengthy and incredibly inefficient (e.g., I completely scratched a draft of this very post because I didn’t like it).

With all the variables, however, I realize that one way that I always begin my writing is to organize. Writing the heading, adding page numbers, opening and organizing every document I’ll need for the assignment: I have to get all of this out of the way first or else I can’t focus. For my cover letters, this meant that I had open tabs for the job description and company; I had already formatted the heading with the correct address and hiring manager name, if I could find it; and I had already decided which resume I would use (I have one for research and one general). Once these are all in place, I have all the tools ready and at my disposal to craft the perfect cover letter.

With all this said, it should come as no surprise that I could work all day and only apply to 5 or 6 jobs. Perhaps I should become a little more formulaic when it comes to quantity over quality. However, this ritual forces me to produce high-quality work and will hopefully help me in the future as I continue into grad school and, eventually, academia.

WHOA

I can’t believe it’s all over. This class has caused me more stress, sweat, and tears than probably any other this semester (no blood, thankfully). However, I didn’t get the sense of relief that I usually get by finishing the final or turning in the final paper. No, this time I feel accomplishment. This is the culmination of a tough semester, and unlike a paper or even a cumulative final, I actually care about this material (imagine that?). I’ve put so much thought, energy, and time into these assignments that now I’m excited to share it with the rest of the world, even if employers aren’t a part of that world thanks to my stubborn insistence on incorporating Pooh. I never thought that employers would be reading this; it was just for me, because I wanted to and because I could. This has helped me realize that there’s so much more to my writing than just what I’ve been forced to do my whole life, and the awful irony is that it took me being forced to complete it before midnight tonight to realize that. That’s why I feel so accomplished: because I actually wanted to do this, and I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I hope that now I’ve figured out what this all feels like that I can continue writing just to write, that I can write things that please me just because I want to. Because in the end, what will I remember from college? I have an awful memory, so I can already tell you that I’ve forgotten most of freshman year. But this course, these assignments, this mountain. I won’t forget that, and not just because it’s saved on the Internet forever. So without further ado, I release you!

http://benbug.wixsite.com/writing220

Letter to Future Gateway Students

Dear Current Gateway Students,

You’re in for a ride. I didn’t know it when I first entered, so be warned that this course will see you through some of your longest nights and earliest mornings, the greatest sense of helplessness you’ve ever felt and a semester’s-worth of built up pride and triumph. I can honestly say that this course gave me some of my highest highs and some of my lowest lows, so think carefully on whether or not you think it’s all worth it.

I think it is worth it. I have to weigh the pros and cons, but the pros—in retrospect, the underdog in a lot of the fight—won out. First, the cons. It’s a lot of work. This was the most work I’ve ever had in a class; if you’re looking for a blow off class, this is not the class for you. It’s also one of the most challenging courses I’ve taken, not in terms of memorizing parts of the cell or regurgitating mathematical formulas but in terms of entering completely new writing territory. I purposefully, almost blindly took on a completely new genre of writing without any previous experience, and the learning curve definitely took my by surprise.

But now for the pros. As for the amount of work, I can’t spin that in a way that makes it any more palatable than it is. However, the challenge is all part of the process. This course is not meant to teach you about writing essays or how to create a podcast, it’s meant to guide you on your personal writing journey, wherever that takes you. You will have some of the most academic freedom you’ve ever experienced and it is through this freedom that you’ll be able to explore, create, fail, and write like you’ve never written before. All rules (well, I guess most) are thrown out the window, and your job in the class is, simply, to grow.

This is what makes the class so challenging: growing is hard. Growing is painful and frustrating and draining. You will inevitably find yourself drudging through assignments just to meet the deadline just as you will inevitably be unable to stop your fingers once you strike inspiration and the words just come to you. The whole point of growing is that you struggle and overcome, and I promise you that you will overcome. I had my doubts, despite Shelley’s utmost confidence, however it did miraculously come together.

This is what I want you to keep in mind: you will overcome. It seems like a lot of work, and it is. However, this isn’t just busywork or problem sets, this is the work that actually helps to improve your writing, however you see fit. I’m taking 6 classes this semester, and if there is anything I’ve learned it is that I am stronger than I think I am; if I can do it, there’s no reason that you can’t, too. I wish I had more faith in my own abilities, and if I could do it all again I would stress less because, in the end, everything will turn out just fine.

So please, don’t worry. It seems contra to what I said about the course load, but it will all work out fine. You will be swamped, you will feel like you’re just running in a hamster wheel, you will cry at 2 in the morning. However, you will also find inspiration, you will grow immensely as a writer, and you will triumph. Pinky promise.

Yours,

Ben Bugajski

Why I Blog Response

My life is irreversibly different than where it was when I originally read Andrew Sullivan’s Why I Blog, and, no, I don’t mean simply because it’s been a few weeks. No, I mean that now Donald Trump is President-elect. This shocked me. I’ve been in a daze for two days. Whenever I think about the election, it takes me a split second to realize that this nightmare, this that-will-never-happen scenario actually happened. Donald fucking Trump will be our President in less than 3 months.

This made me re-evaluate my life in jarring ways. For one, while I was considering switching my major to Sociology, that will no longer be happening; there aren’t any jobs in Political Science, but there certainly aren’t any jobs in Soc. Second, I realize I truly want to enter academia, now that it is, realistically, financially foolish to even consider. If the models hold true, there will be a global recession, and the last people to recover from this will be tenure-track-seeking academics. What university would hire people when their budget will be cut back and they will be faced with faculty they cannot fire? Unless the face of tenure changes, like having mandatory retirement at 65, academics will not be hired once economic catastrophe inevitably strikes.

I bring this up because what, then, is the point of my writing? If I discovered my true passion—to be an intellectual, to deal with concepts and data and counterarguments—but that passion, by all accounts, shouldn’t be realized in our current political climate, why continue honing my craft with research, papers, and blogging? Why write?

Out of the three authors, the only one that does not have an explicit answer to this question is, ironically, the one whose work I should be analyzing, Sullivan. Orwell thinks writing should have clear aesthetic value in the conscious choices of the writer as well as a (political) argument. Didion thinks that her writing is about seeing the true nature of the world, not in concepts and metaphors, but actual descriptions of the banal and the beautiful around her.

Sullivan, on the other hand, seems to analyze writing in every way but to question its purpose and existence. He sees blogging as an intimate experience, as bloggers can connect to each other via the hyperlink. Also, the sometimes-simply-receptive but sometimes-truly-helpful-authoritative audience is just a few keystrokes or clicks away from the author, adding a layer of anonymous intimacy. I, on the other hand, have an almost monastic view of writing: I lay out careful arguments over the course of days, weeks, and unless I ask for your advice, you won’t see it until I have a finished product. Thus, Sullivan’s main description of blogging scares me. I wholeheartedly embrace the truism of the thin-skinned writer, as I myself am scared of criticism (hence, my natural tendency to write in this elitist, pretentious tone). But even if blogging as a form of writing is not for me, there must be something that Sullivan offers that I can use.

It is, I think, when I combine all three that I find a truth that I can live with, namely the importance of beauty in writing. Sullivan never explicitly mentions beauty; the other two writers mention writing’s aesthetic as it relates to the meter and rhythm of prose or to the visual, colorful majesty one can but only hope to be able to one day capture in black on white on a flat page. Sullivan, however, displays the importance of beauty in the Orwellian sense, in that while Orwell explains it, Sullivan demonstrates it. His casual but intellectual prose seamlessly transitions from the history of the ship’s log to the analysis of writing to the history of “bloggers” in a way that makes me want to read it (well, almost; it’s just really long). I like Orwell’s writing style, and Didion’s is fine, however I prefer the slightly-pretentious style of The Atlantic over both of the other two. In this way, I receive the most important, resonant, unifying message in the meta analysis of the writer who refuses to meta analyze the subject on which he’s writing.

This is important to me because, as I mentioned in previous assignments (which none of you readers, unfortunately, can access), my goal in the gateway course, I realize, is to find beauty in writing. I hadn’t seen this at first, however now it all makes sense: from refusing to budge from the ruthlessly difficult Winnie-the-Pooh style, to writing a True Facts About the…-style script for my remediation project, the challenges for this course come not from posing the argument, but in how it is posed. I can already express an argument; that’s what I’ve done since 6th Grade, and I’ve continually honed that skill since then. However, what’s been missing is the beauty in my prose. In this way, it is the presentation of the material that is most important, and this practice is challenging and stretching my writing skills in new ways I hadn’t considered before taking this course.

Overall, my voice and writing content in general is different from most blogging voices: it is verbose, unendingly analytical, and flowery, approaching flowery to excess. Blogging has me practice the stream-of-consciousness style of writing, and simply by doing it enough I’ve come to realize that I don’t want to write in the traditional blog voice. That’s just not me. I’m the one giving the 5-paragraph refutation on Facebook over a single (uninformed and obviously incorrect) political opinion on Facebook; I’m the one who scours the web for polarizing social topics so I can rewrite all the old arguments in a biting, satirical style, just to try on this new hat. Both display a kind of beauty, the first in bringing back prose to an otherwise barren landscape of mindless, unimportant updates on their days and the other in bringing a little color back into the now-archaic arguments’ sallow, sunken cheeks. I think both of these are worthwhile in bringing back an old convention of writing present in Dickinson, King, Plato, Salinger, and Fitzgerald, namely beauty. Writing should not be downgraded to its basic, utilitarian function; otherwise, why would novels exist? Why would this class, this university, this world, exist? I think that the late and great Robin Williams put it best when he said, “Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” Beauty. This is what we stay alive for.

Drafting and Revising

This chapter was all about how your storyboard becomes a finished product. The authors identify a few discrete stages: first, the rough cut, where you have everything basically in position just without any of the details; second, the rough draft, where everything comes together and you should theoretically be able to give it someone without any introduction and they should be able to critique it (unless they’re unfamiliar with the genre/audience, so you’d provide this information as well); and finally the revising stage, where you take said feedback and create a revision plan, updating your project from there. They also tell us how to give feedback, as that’s just as crucial as knowing how to make changes once you receive critiques.

I’ve never broken my writing process down so much, however I feel like this applies to the ePortfolio because, until we graduate from the minor, we will never have a finished product; there may, and will, be finished projects we can point to, however until we add the final project we won’t know the exact layout of the website, we won’t know the exact formatting of which hyperlinks go where. Every one in a while, we’ll finish a project and get a ‘finished product’; however, as soon as we add to the ePortfolio, it will change. Thus, as long as we have a project that we’re working on, we’ll be in a hybrid rough cut/rough draft stage.

I find this to be a comforting thought because it reflects the process of writing. Writing is never really done; even when you have a ‘finished product’ you can look back on your piece several years or even days later and you’ll find something to tweak. It also helps ease the anxiety of doing the re-purposing and re-mediation project at the same time. I’m the kind of person that likes to get one thing done before starting something else, however I’ve been challenged to multitask in both this course and my job writing for The University Record. Hopefully, it will help me grow and teach me better how to manage my time, and at the same time realize that just because I’m starting a different step in the project doesn’t mean I have to be finished with the jumping off point.

Repurposing Blog

I’ve done a little bit more research since Monday, and I’ve decided to change my project very slightly. Before, I was going to write in an historical fiction genre for children, however after doing more research on Winnie-the-Pooh (which was what drew me to writing for children, anyway) I’ve decided not to model my project off of Magic Tree House and just stick with the children’s book genre, of ages about 5-7. I’m not doing this because I don’t want to write about the history; I’m going to keep the historical aspects because that’s part of my original piece, I just want to focus more on the writing style because that’s what I want to get out of this project anyway.

I do this also because I consider Pooh to be a genre of its own. No one else writes quite like that, and I think that his style bleeds over into genre. I say this because he writes (a) for a child’s perspective while adding in some sophistication only adults will understand (this in itself isn’t unique, as cartoons do exactly that), (b) as if the action is literally happening, and instead of conveying the actual action he’ll use one of the characters’ perspectives, making it playful (as seen here), and (c) he wittily plays with different writing elements (like breaking the fourth wall, having the omniscient narrator limit himself by taking on the characters’ positions, and using dry humor surrounding his characters’ childlike egocentrism to make the characters clearly absurd while retaining the own characters’ obliviousness and thus retaining the story’s childlike innocence). That was a lot to handle in one sentence. However, Milne’s style is inarguably unique, and the point of all of that was to argue that his style makes his genre like no other writer.

The only help I could use is to find more examples of writing like Pooh. My initial research hasn’t turned up anything (besides a movie review, though it’s not of the same caliber), so having one more example to base my writing off of would be great. Otherwise, I think I just have to write. That’s the only way I’ll know what I need to work on. I will continue my research tonight by watching the Pooh movies on Netflix (not just to watch them, but because part of the charm of the story is the pictures playing with it) and the movie plays with the words spoken because Pooh literally trips over the words on the page.