Final Project

Here it is! I can’t believe the time has come to submit my senior capstone project. We’ve worked on them all semester (and heavily the past few weeks) and I can honestly say I’m surprised by what I’ve created. It’s not perfect by any means and I already wish I had more time to edit, but it’s a genre I’ve never done before and in that there is something to be proud.

Initially, I had a series of ideas—each of which I stuck with for a period of time—before deciding on something completely different. As a senior, I felt very overwhelmed by my impending graduation and the struggles of finding a job. Driving my stress I realized were the conversations being had around this pivotal moment. It very much felt like the only option I had was to graduate and immediately move to a new, exciting place where I had been hired by a glamorous company with exciting benefits, and offered the new and improved status of “successful hired person.” Except, this wasn’t what I had lined up and the more I talked to other students, the more I realized that many were in the same position.

I started thinking that if so many people feel unsatisfied with their immediate future and so consumed by a fear of failure, even though others were in the same boat, the story that we’re being told isn’t right. It’s too easy to get sucked into the narrative that life after graduation is a straight path to success, but in reality, every person has to make their own path and most aren’t straight. You might find yourself at the dead end of a cul-de-sac or driving two hours in the wrong direction. It happens.

The intent for this project was to explore these ideas through interviews with UM employees from the Career Center and the Center for Campus Involvement as well as UM students and present their stories (as well as my own) through a short, six episode podcast series. I wasn’t entirely sure of my goal at the start of this project. I wasn’t trying to necessarily give advice or complain about the difficulties of graduating. I just wanted to provide a bigger picture than what I think we’re given or at least what we buy into.

Thanks for everyone’s support and advice throughout this process. I hope you enjoy listening!

https://brennmac.wixsite.com/podcast

Challenge Blog Four: Fighting with Technology

This week’s challenge came as I was sitting down to edit my first podcast. At the start of this project, I chose to do a podcast series, because it seemed like the best fit for my project, but I also thought it would be relatively easy to figure out the recording, transcribing, and editing process. I was very wrong. After conducting my first few interviews, I just kept telling myself that I’d sit down and edit the recordings in a couple of hours and that it would be easy. Again, I was very wrong. Once I finally sat down to edit my first interview it dawned on me that the editing process wasn’t just converting a file to an mp3 and uploading it to my website.

I needed to listen to each interview (ranging from 30-40 minutes a piece) and carefully mark the parts I wanted to include by the exact seconds in order to edit them out later. Then I had to use iMovie to actually make these cuts, which of course first required me to learn how to use the program. This alone was an hour detour, because I’m technologically challenged. Now I understand how my mom feels when she can’t figure out how to send a picture through iMessage. It should be easy and in fact it is, but when you have no clue where to start, you tire quickly of searching aimlessly for the answer.

After I had a basic understanding of iMovie, I was able to cut and edit my podcast relatively easily. It was a different challenge figuring out how to transition from one clip to another in a way that didn’t sound awkward or choppy, however after a couple of hours I had something I was happy enough with. Something I’ve struggled with during this project is being ok with things turning out differently than I expected. I knew a podcast would be a challenge in itself, but the amount of time it’s taken to complete just one episode has been a wakeup call. Perfection isn’t the goal. The goal is to finish what I started.

Challenge Blog Three: Changing Gears

It was nearing 11pm. I was tired, still had an exam to study for and a paper to write, but I wanted to finish my annotated bibliography. It was a struggle. To make matters more complicated, I started questioning the usefulness of some of my sources. One in particular didn’t really seem like a modal source (as I had labeled it) and it wasn’t relevant to my project at all, except that it was an ethnographic study (which I’m only loosely using as a technique), so I took a step back and spent some time brainstorming different ways I could present my final project.

Without realizing it at the time, I was using a variation of Tharp’s 20-question technique to come up with a better idea. Eventually I had something. This past summer I went on a few road trips during which I listened to a variety of podcasts, one of which was S-town. Once I had this seedling, I visited the homepage and felt a dozen light bulbs going off in my head. This was it! This is how I would convey my ideas to others. This small discovery led to a slew of new research leads. One after the other, the majority of my compiled sources were cut from the list and replaced by more relevant and useful ones until I had a list that I actually wanted to use as references. What I thought would take me an hour ended up taking me three, but it was worth it.

For the first time since the start of the semester, I felt like I was in a groove instead of a rut. I was excited to reach out to those I wanted to interview and felt motivated to make progress. Unfortunately this groove came just a few days before winter break, by which point I was brain dead. Now, having returned back to school, I feel like I’ve lost that pre-break motivation that was so inspiring, but hopefully the first week sluggishness will wear off and I can jump back into my project with the enthusiasm I experienced briefly before.

From past experience—whether it be essay writing or a semester long project—I have found that sometimes it’s up to me if I want to shed the sluggishness. It’s too easy to fall into a pattern of laziness when the end is near. However, this is the time I really need to dig in. What has worked well for me in the past is setting aside a day (usually on weekends when I don’t have class to worry about) dedicated solely to whatever it is I want to get done. Having a whole day that I know ahead of time is the time I have to get things done, helps to put me in the right frame of mind.

 

Challenge Blog Two: The Empty Room

Oh boy I am tired. I feel like Tharp when she describes the white empty dance room that awaits genius to overtake her. But unlike her feelings of excitement, my emotions were mostly dominated by dread and foreboding. I think everyone can relate to the awful feeling of being stumped and not loving where your ideas are going. My brain might have blocked out bad memories from the past, but I really don’t remember struggling this hard during the gateway course. Maybe it’s because this is our senior year and I really want to create something worth looking back on or maybe it’s because senior year in itself is a busy, stressful time. Whatever the reason, I have been thinking and rethinking my project proposal until the very last second.

A tactic I always engage in when I’m feeling stuck is avoidance. I know, not very productive, but why not put off today what you can do tomorrow? At least, that’s how I read that saying when I’m at a standstill. As I was going through this process I was also going through it with my communications capstone course in trying to decide a paper topic that discussed material we had learned thus far. I was equally stumped and after my regular period of avoidance (up until the last possible second), I started talking. I called up my dad and sparked a conversation about the class subject and asked what he thought about those things. Then I talked to my boyfriend who gave me an initial spark of hope (that ultimately turned into a dead end, but still led me somewhere!) and finally I talked to myself and put something together that was totally mine. I just needed some other voices to get my creative juices flowing.

So, that is exactly what I did for this project proposal. I talked to my roommate, my mom, my dad, anyone who would listen really and asked them what they thought of when they thought of me. I was trying to gauge my interests through other peoples eyes, which might seem silly considering we know ourselves the best, but when I’m stuck like this, I find it helps to just hear any sort of feedback. I didn’t get my idea from any of the conversations I had, but that wasn’t entirely the point. Everyone I spoke with sent me in a new direction until I stumbled onto something of my own. Something that stuck, because I came up with it myself. But if it weren’t for those other voices and conversations, I wouldn’t have taken the many many turns it took to get to my destination. And I’m still turning.

Challenge Blog One: Rituals

When Tharp listed out a few of her daily rituals, it forced me to consider my own. At first I was struck by my seeming lack of ritual. Sure, I have a structure to my day guided mainly by classes and how hungry I am at any given time, but that didn’t seem like the same thing as ritual. When considering writing specifically, I thought back to the papers I wrote over last semester and realized that the writing process I help students with everyday as a consultant in Sweetland, isn’t necessarily what I follow myself. I was struck by a scary thought. Is it possible that I have written so many papers over the course of my academic career and felt overly capable of turning in “decent” work that I have developed a rushed, un-ritualized habit of writing?

Upon further reflection, I found this wasn’t entirely true for a couple of reasons. First, I think that ritual is different than having invested interest in a paper. Maybe I wasn’t particularly thrilled by the topic of everything I wrote, but I still went through the same stages. I always start by making myself a cup of tea before I even think about sitting down and when I finally do it’s at my desk, in my room, with my door shut. So far that gives me two rituals: a hot drink and a quiet, secluded space. Like Tharp’s ritual of getting into the taxi cab they are small, but important first steps.

My last one I thought of after reflecting on a cover letter I submitted last week for a job I was especially excited about. I didn’t know where to start, because it differed drastically from any other job I had ever applied to, which meant a completely revamped cover letter. So, I took out a pen and paper and jotted down some of my qualities that I thought best reflected me and suited the job at hand. Then I thought, duh! This is my ritual! I always, without fail jot down a handwritten, rough, and not honestly all that detailed outline (I’m talking a few sentences at most and sometimes just a few words), before I start writing. It’s never much, but once I have my idea written down on paper I can start formulating the rest of my essay/cover letter/what have you. It might sound trivial, doesn’t every writer formulate some sort of outline before starting? Maybe, but having that spark of inspiration down on paper in a word or two is my third ritual nonetheless. Hopefully I’ll discover more this semester.

An ePortfolio is Born!

Whew! It was a lot of work pushing that thing out. The past few months have been tiresome and grueling. I was sleep deprived, my moods were all over the place and oh my god, the amount of times I got up to pee…insane. What? No, I wasn’t pregnant! I was birthing an ePortfolio! I worked on it into the late hours of the night (hence the sleep deprivation), I kept changing my mind about the direction I was going (hence the mood swings), and I functioned on copious amounts of coffee (hence the peeing). This project has become in a sense my newborn child. I read chapters on the best techniques and methods to create it, I nurtured it through the beginning stages of life, and I tried my best to teach it my values.

So here it is. I hope it gives a sense of who I am as a writer and that people enjoy reading it, but if not that’s ok, because I enjoyed making it. As a first time parent to an online portfolio, I’ve learned a lot. This thing was hard work! But, I think one of the biggest ways I’ve grown as a writer this semester is that I started to think about the bigger picture. Most other writing intensive classes I’ve been a part of have never required me to write for an audience outside of the classroom. This class forced me to do exactly the opposite of that. For the first time I got to think about what I wanted to write, why I wanted to write it, and for whom. I realized I’m much better at writing to other people (for example in the form of letters or a blog post) than I am at writing to or for myself.

Something I want to work on between now and the capstone is exactly that–writing for myself. I thought I could try doing it in the form of creative fiction. This is a genre I really love and want to explore more, but the direction I chose for the gateway took me inward to a place of self-reflection. I think it would be beneficial to expand my writing skills by working in genres I am less comfortable in. I really enjoyed the creative fiction class I took my freshman year and want to revisit the exercises and assignments I did for it. One of the outside artifacts I included in my ePortfolio was actually a short story from that class. It wasn’t necessarily going to win any awards, but I liked it, because it was the first piece of writing I had created purely from my imagination. Yes, imagination plays a part in all writing as does creativity, but fiction takes it a step further. The gateway course taught me how to write for audiences outside of the classroom and now I want to write for audiences outside of the classroom without being forced to do so.

I’ll get back to you on how that goes…

 

 

A Letter to Future Gateway Students

Dear Future Gateway Students,

Don’t be scared. This class is fun! You get to hang out with interesting people who think interesting things and then you get to write about whatever you want…guided by prompts of course ;).

Maybe you’re not scared like I was, maybe you’re just excited. If this is you, that’s great! If this isn’t you, then keep reading (but also keep reading even if this isn’t you, because maybe I’ll still have relevant advice). When I went to orientation for this class and saw the finished ePortfolios of the students before me, I was both amazed and scared. Amazed at how professional their work looked and scared that I had to climb such a high mountain. But here’s a piece of advice. Don’t be scared or nervous or worried, because those feelings stifle creativity and the important thing to remember is that your final ePortfolios won’t happen over night. They’ll happen over the course of the entire semester and your instructor will space individual parts out along the way so by the end of the class, you have the bulk of everything you need.

Here’s another piece of advice. Don’t limit yourself. If I could go back to the beginning of the class when we were brainstorming ideas for our first project, I would tell myself to think outside the box and then think outside of that box and even that box, because there are so many interesting and different things you can do with this project. At the same time, be slow. Be slow? That’s not something you hear often, but I mean it. You don’t have to go with the first idea that pops into your head. I took over a month to even decide on my overall topic and even still changed the genre of my piece after writing the first draft.

The re-purposing project will seem daunting, because you have this assignment that basically sets the tone for the rest of your assignments for that semester. But remember this. You can re-purpose anything! It doesn’t have to be an academic essay or creative fiction. Seriously, you could re-purpose a grocery list if you think about it long enough. Whose grocery list is it? What are they shopping for? Do they even need groceries or are they trying to take their minds off of something? See what I did there? The possibilities are endless.

Maybe you don’t even quite understand all of the pieces of advice I’m giving you yet and that’s ok. Once you start the class things will start to fall in place and hopefully something I’ve said here will help you even just a little bit. The last thing I’ll say, is pick a topic that is dear to your heart, because it will be hard to last the entire semester if you choose something you’re not passionate about.

Good luck!

Brenna

P.S. The final results of your ePortfolio will blow your mind and it will be a source of great satisfaction and accomplishment that you can show to potential employers, family members or whomever you want. So, going into Writing 220, know that the work you do there is going toward something useful and important.

 

Re-visiting “Why I Blog”

Didion comes across mildly schizophrenic and writes to purge her thoughts and fuzzy images into a blank space that she hopes will answer her internal queries, Orwell writes to soothe his tortured soul and spread his propaganda and Sullivan… well Sullivan seems the most sane out of all three. His blog about blogging gives an in depth analysis of not only why he blogs, but the conventions of a blog. Pretty straightforward stuff compared to Didion’s fuzzy cats and lonely boy Orwell.

But in reality, these three writers have more in common than I’m giving them credit for. At their core, Didion, Orwell, and Sullivan all write to express their ideas and make sense of the world around them—as I would argue most writers do. How about I just let them speak for themselves?

George Orwell:
untitledI’m assuming most of you know who I am (one of the reasons that writers write is sheer egoism)…I wrote Animal Farm and 1984, both of which demonstrate my fourth reason for writing: political purpose. I’m not sure that Sullivan and Didion write to spread their propaganda, but it’s clear they still want to alter people’s ideas about one thing or another. Don’t we all? My style used to be much more descriptive, but now I aim to be as concise as possible. However, once I master this technique I’m sure to be bored and move onto something else. Maybe I’ll try Didion’s visual technique and use everyday sightings to inspire my writing. Although, I’m not so sure that lights in a bevatron will affect me the way they affected her…

Joan Didion:

 I know my thoughts can be hard to follow. I guess that’s just part of my style. I write in a very fluid way that leads me from one point to another until I have the answers I’ve been searching for—the whole purpose of why I write. If I knew before putting pen to paper what I wanted to know, there would be no reason to
write at all. I didn’t choose to be a writer, I just am. When something absorbs so much of your time, there is really no more questioning it. I’m a very visual person, so much so that I can see a shimmer around inanimate objects and then I try to find the words to describe what I am seeing. If I didn’t write, I think I’d go crazy. I’m not crazy though, I swear.

 

Andrew Sullivan:

sullivanWhen it comes to writing I do it all, but blogging is my passion. Many people confuse the purpose of blogs, which is why I laid it all out in a clear and concise way in my own blog about blogs. My style is guided by a need to inform and a need to express my views to the world for people to turn them into a discussion, argument, or whatever they please. That’s the beauty of blogging. It gives
people an outlet to get their message out there in a quick fire way. Blogs are messy and unpolished, because they are a compilation of our first thoughts about something. Each genre of writing has its own conventions that should be respected and understood.

Me:

These three writers have a lot of similarities when it comes to why they write, but their styles are as unique as they are. When I think about my own writing and work in the minor I wonder what my key characteristics will be that people pick out. I like Didion’s philosophy that we write to find answers, because I think writing leads to thinking and thinking back to writing. Like Orwell I want to speak to my audience in a compelling way that inspires them to think differently about something and like Sullivan I want to inform. There are so many different reasons to write and so many different ways to create a unique style. I hope that by the end of the minor my writing is as “my own” as it is for the three writers above.

Drafting and Revising My Project

Until this point I have put any thoughts of my ePortfolio on the back burner. In part, because the re-purposing and re-mediation projects have been enough to think about, but also because I am not quite sure what I want the final product to look like. It’s easy to imagine what parts one and two of the project will look like in the end, but visualizing the greater ePortfolio is definitely more of a challenge. Do I want it to have a theme dictated by my re-purposing and re-mediation projects? If this were the case then my third artifact would have to somehow fit into the category of female empowerment or the consequences of beauty standards. Looking back at the work I have saved, I’m not sure anything fits that mold.

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The chapter on “Drafting and Revising Your Project” made me think more specifically about the numerous steps that will help me take my individual pieces and create an online portfolio that presents them in a united front. Whether I have a central theme or no theme at all I will still need to consider the layout, visual elements, fonts, color schemes, and all of the other elements that contribute to a polished ePortfolio. I want my ePortfolio to be a representation of who I am, which is perhaps asking too much. Maybe instead I should try and make it representative of my values and interests. That would make choosing my third artifact easier, because it doesn’t have to explicitly relate to my re-purposing and re-mediation as long as it embodies something that is important to me.

The section of the chapter that discussed techniques on moving from a rough cut to a rough draft really got me thinking about how I want to make my ePortfolio interactive. One idea I have to make my re-mediation interactive (after I have finished the rough-cut and placed it on my ePortfolio) is to have a scroll-over feature that allows readers to view more in depth analysis of my artistic choices. For example if I have a subtitle on my magazine cover that says, “Find the sunscreen that’s right for you!” viewers can scroll over it and read a longer description of why I chose to say that. I think interactivity is a key element of an ePortfolio, because it engages the reader and helps them better understand your message. I’m excited to see where these thoughts and ideas take me.

Blogging My Process

The best analogy I can use to describe my process with this project and where I stand right now is an amusement park. When I first entered the project I was overwhelmed with all of the choices before me. Would I ride the tilt-a-whirl first? Maybe start slow with the ferris wheel? Or would I skip the rides and go straight for the arcade games? Once the dust had settled and my initial excitement wore off I made a clear plan of action. First I’d ride the teacups, then the tilt-a-whirl, then the demon drop, and finish with Freakout, the scariest and best ride. But then along the way I lost my shoe on one of the rides and now I don’t know where to find it. This is essentially how I feel right now about this project. I used to have a clear plan of action. I wanted to write a series of articles for the online women’s community Hello Giggles that discussed varying female related struggles. Then I found the blog site Brain Pickings and toyed with the idea of focusing on one topic and writing a more in-depth well researched blog post.

And here I am looking for my shoe…

I know I just have to start writing. First drafts are supposed to be messy and disorganized, but I’m finding it hard to even pick a topic to start on. The few I have been considering center around relationships, self image, and differences between the sexes (when it comes to dating). The more I think about it, the more I start to doubt my direction. Are my ideas original enough? I think i’m dealing with commonly talked about things, which is why how I choose to write it/what I choose to incorporate will make all the difference between blah and awesome. I think the best place for me to start is in the personal anecdote section of my re-purposing. Perhaps once I am able to recount the original source that made me want to write about these topics in the first place, my clarity will return.

Even though I came into this project with some idea of the specific issues I wanted to discuss, I think at this point it would be helpful to hear what other people remember struggling with in their lives (even if they completely stray from my original topic choices and even if you’re a boy and don’t think any of this is relevant to you, because it definitely is!). I really want to address things that are relevant to many people so please offer any feedback.