Priorities, people

When I woke up yesterday to go to my meeting with Raymond, I packed my bag with clothes for the gym and work for the library. I had my meeting with Raymond and then headed toward campus. I went to the gym, did my workout, and then, of course, walked straight home – the work in my bag left sadly unattended. On my walk home, I noticed that the weather had become sunny and warm – very springlike. So when I got home I was overcome by a very severe case of spring cleaning fever. I spent more than two hours cleaning the kitchen, family room and my already clean bedroom. As I did these things, I made a decision: no work until the sun goes down.

I woke up this morning and made the exact same decision. I spent the day rearranging the eggs my housemates and I had dyed until they were in the perfect position for an Instagram post. I walked with one of my housemates to Lucky’s Market, where I spent $30 on things I didn’t need: fruit and coconut water – which, on its own, tastes like sweat by the way – for a smoothie, a rotisserie chicken and some flowers. I made my smoothie, de-chickened my bird, called my dad and took a shower.

But on neither occasion did I regret my decision, despite the fact that I have a thesis due on Friday and feel horrifyingly lost and overwhelmed when it comes to my capstone project. So as I stood in the shower this afternoon, I thought about why I repeatedly made this decision. Was it just senioritis kicking in? Maybe so, but I realized for me senioritis is about more than just being tired and sick of work. It’s about prioritizing other things over work. As the amount of work I have piles up and the pressure to power through increases, I allot less and less time to it and more time to things that make me increase me personal happiness. And in doing so, I almost feel less stressed, because I am happier. I know everything will get done. When has it ever not?

So how is everyone else coping with their senioritis? Has anyone avoided it? Has any person ever?

Musical Memories

As I sit on my couch trying to write my Writer’s Evolution Essay and listening to the film scores station on Pandora, I feel the hairs on my arms stand up at a particular section of the Lord of the Rings film score (from a scene in the Shire, not Mount Doom…these are happy chills). And again during the score of How to Train Your Dragon. These are the same chills I feel when I hear the theme song to Friday Night Lights or Parenthood (either of the two it had). What is it about these pieces of music that gives me chills? Is it that they are associated with happy scenes, and I imagine I am one of the characters in one of those moments instead of myself in this particular moment? Are these pieces a reminder that I will be triumphant in writing this essay the same way Frodo was in destroying the ring (spoiler alert) or the Panthers were at winning the Texas Football State Championship (again, sorry). I assume there must be a more technical reason for why particular music elicits particular emotional and physiological responses, like happy chills. But I don’t know what that is. Maybe some of my peers taking on musically-oriented capstone projects can shed some light on that…

I have always believed that music, like smells, is strongly associated with memories. The movies and shows whose scores I have mentioned elicit happy personal memories. Whether that be returning home one of the few times I get to (like Frodo and Sam), watching Taylor Kitsch do anything, playing with my dog, Max (the equivalent of Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon), or having a big family dinner like the Bravermans’ in Parenthood, which hasn’t happened since my parents’ divorce. All of these pieces of music make me long for the memories of which they remind me. And that, for whatever reason, gives me chills. Music is pretty powerful; I hope we can all agree on that. Now if only it could inspire me with what to write for this essay.

I have confidence?

I’m confident in Max. Who he was, what he meant to me, how to tell his story and what his story means to so many others, both dog and human. I have a (dog’s) lifetime of material to work from, and I have experience writing creative non-fiction stories the way I wish to write Max’s. But, there is a piece of the giant puzzle that will be my final project about which I’m less confident: topic analysis. I haven’t written in the genre of topic analysis in quite a long time. I am working on a thesis, which certainly involves research and articulation of that research, but I guarantee if I wrote the topic analysis elements of my project the same way I am writing my thesis, I would have zero readers. Nobody wants to read nonsense like that on their own time. So, creating the topic analyses of my project is going to have to be a highly practiced task. How do I convey my research without being too dry? Some of that will be accomplished by paralleling each topic analysis with a story about Max, but not all of it. Beyond that task, I also have to successfully merge the topic analysis and creative non-fiction elements into one genre as my project progresses – something I have NEVER done and am not entirely sure I will be able to accomplish. I think the effect of this technique will be incredible, a real trip for the reader, but only if done well.

I’m excited to write about Max. I’m sure a lot of that excitement comes from being confident in the Max-aspect of my project. But, I need to transfer some of that excitement over to the other elements of my project: the topic analysis, the overall form and its effect, the tone, etc. Max alone will not make a great project, and all of the other elements are going to require a lot more of my attention and effort.

Project Progress

It’s impossible to change something that never existed in the first place. Thus, my idea for the form of my project has not changed. When I began thinking about my project, even when I wrote up the pre-proposal, the form was not something I knew. I thought about it. I thought about how I needed to decide what it would be. But I never actually decided. As I compose my proposal, the form of my project is slightly more defined – I decided to alternate between presenting topic analysis about the co-evolution and existence of humans and dogs and evidencing that analysis with stories about my dog, Max. My analysis may be presented as prose derived either from an article or an interview or as video clips. Using creative non-fiction, I will narrate my stories about Max, but I will also include personal photos and videos. My image of how all of this will tie together in my final project is still fuzzy. I feel like given the time, resources and expertise, my project would best be presented entirely in video format. However, that’s not something I think I can pull off. Maybe I can. More thought on that to come.

The element of my project that has drastically changed is my content focus. My original idea was to couple my interests in psychology and law (and dogs) by discussing rescues. What is the human psychology behind animal abuse and neglect? What is the psychological impact of those experiences on the dogs? And how does that psychological impact affect the behavior and training of rescues? Now, my project focuses much more on the co-existence of man and dog. Dogs are our companions. Why is that? By discussing these things I hope to implicitly get at the issue of animal abuse – a direct breach of the social mutuality of humans and dogs.

Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee

When I sat down to watch Grease! Live, I felt mainly anxious. Attempting to recreate such an iconic movie is dangerous, and I was bombarded with images of Vanessa Hudgens as Gabriella Montez and clips of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” playing in my head. The characters of Grease – their voices, their clothes and their mannerisms – are so unique, I didn’t think it was possible for people other than the original cast to do them justice.

While I was pleasantly surprised by the live production of Grease, I do have to somewhat criticize the casting choices. While Vanessa Hudgens and Aaron Tveit had incredible vocal performances, they failed in my eyes to capture the essence of Rizzo and Danny. Danny Zuko is greasy and sexy and goofy, always moving his hips and limbs in unnatural ways and combing his hair. Aaron Tveit played a much more wholesome and restricted Danny. He wasn’t a punk. In the final scene of his live performance, Tveit looked very at home in his letterman sweater – versus the typical Danny Zuko leather jacket and cigarette. Similarly, Vanessa Hudgens wasn’t able to reproduce Rizzo’s bitchy attitude and snarly sound. Hudgens nailed Rizzo’s habitual gesture of playing with the bottom of her hair, but the overall impression wasn’t on.

That being said, Julianne Hough channeled Olivia Newton John to near perfection. From her look to her voice to her demeanor, Julianne Hough was Sandy Olsson (see below). She was sweet and demure. But in the final scene, she was sexy and fierce.

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 10.54.02 PM

It’s a dog’s life

I have always struggled with indecision. It’s not that I don’t know what interests me; It’s that I am interested in too many things.

When we were first asked to think of six possible project topics, I was discouraged by the prospect of doing so. And now that I have successfully imagined six possible topics, I am discouraged once again; I cannot for the life of me decide which to choose. Some topics interest me more than others, but those are also the topics for which it is hard to develop a concrete vision of what I would like to do. So, while I internally wrangle with which idea will dominate the next four months of my life, I discuss here just one.

My family dog passed away this summer and the devastation it caused reverberated for months. It is incredible the impact a dog can have on a human. Then again, it is incredible the impact a human can have on a dog. My family has always rescued dogs – from shelters, foster homes, humane societies. We all know that it can be a total shot in the dark; you never really know what you’re getting with a rescue. What has happened to them in the past? What kind of scars did those events leave? How will the the animal react to new situations? There are so many unknowns – so much risk. But every time I watched Max roll around in the grass or bury, dig up and re-bury his bone in the dirt, hike in the woods or whimper when I came home from school, I thought about how happy he was and how we had changed his life. He had lived with a terrible family in North Carolina probably thinking there was no way out; that would be his life forever. He even ran away at which point he was hit by a car and, sadly, returned to them. But there was a way out. We were his way out.

In light of my dog Max’s life and death, I want to create a project about rescue dogs. I am still very vague on the form my project will take and do not have the exact content pinned down. But here is what I do know:

  1. Disciplines included: psychology, animal science, ethics
  2. Focal object/subject: dog (Max?), training
  3. Confounding variable: In our class discussion, a friend of mine suggested that I write from the dog’s perspective. I am now considering writing from the perspective of my dog in particular. I know some of the things that happened to Max before we adopted him and just about everything that happened to him after. I have a connection to Max that I think would help facilitate a really interesting piece.

Advice to future MiW students

First off, this class is one of my favorites that I’ve taken at U of M. You will work hard, learn a lot and finish the semester immensely proud to the work you’ve done. I have just a few pieces of advice to help you get the most out of Writing 220.

When I first walked in to Writing 220, I had no idea the amount of digital work I would be doing. In the course, you will be constantly writing on collaborative google docs, blogging, maybe creating a digital project for your Remediation project and, finally, creating an e-portfolio. While I enjoyed all the digital writing I produced (the blog took some warming up to), it was definitely an unexpected element of the class. So, part of my advice to you is this: be prepared for that, and remain open-minded about it. Some of the most satisfying work I did in this class was digital, and I think it’s an important skill for all of us to have as we move forward as writers in a technologically-based age. If the idea of digital writing seems daunting, don’t worry. Most of your peers have the same low level of experience as you do, and you will all be learning a lot of new things together. If you’re like me, you’ll end up really enjoying working with digital media.

My second piece of advice is to stay calm and remember that you were accepted into this minor for a reason. I remember the sense of anxiety that overcame me every time we were given a project prompt. I didn’t know how I was going to be able to create the project that was asked of me; I had no clear vision for what I wanted my projects to be. As I moved forward in the class, though, that sense of anxiety diminished, and jumping into projects became easier and easier. A large part of this class is about taking risks, and I think that’s just something that comes with practice. Very few of us have developed projects like the ones students create for Writing 220 prior to taking the class. And while that can make the class difficult at first, that is what makes Writing 220 so fulfilling and instructive. Every one of you, I guarantee, will learn something you’ve never encountered before.

My last piece of advice is less about the class and more about the people sitting around you in class: get to know them. It took a while for me – and, I think, a lot of people in my cohort, since we were always told how quiet we are – to branch out and talk to my peers. But, the feedback you give and get in group workshops will be so much more in-depth and helpful if you are comfortable with the people around you. Collaboration is what made my projects successful, and I ended up invested in not only my projects, but the projects of my peers.

Congratulations on being accepted into the minor and get excited!

Unchartered territory

With only two days left until the unveiling of our e-portfolios, I still have a lot to do. I know exactly what I want to do; it’s just a matter of finding the time to play with all the design options. When I began designing my portfolio, I wanted a clean and simple site that almost paralleled a children’s book. The background and font of my portfolio are children’s book-esque, and visitors navigate horizontally from page to page just like a book. And that’s all good. But from viewing my peer’s portfolios, I decided my design is almost too simple. It needs a little flare, and I’m not quite sure how to do that. There are, of course, elements of the content that I need to change also, but I have clear ideas for those changes, so I’m not as worried about them.

Despite my slight sense of panic at all the work I still have to do, I’ve really enjoyed creating my portfolio, and I’m excited about finishing it. I remember looking through the previous cohorts’ portfolios and viewing all their projects, thinking I was not nearly creative enough to develop projects like theirs. As I’m developing my own portfolio, I get to view my finished projects, and I find myself extremely proud of them and the challenges I overcame in creating them. That sense of pride led me to the exigence of my portfolio: to showcase my newfound creative abilities and how they, coupled with other academic writing, make me a more well-rounded writer. In essence, my portfolio shows how I have grown as a writer.

I’ve learned a lot in Writing 220: about creative writing, effective collaboration and digital software and rhetoric. Most importantly, I learned not to be afraid to explore unchartered territory. I hope all of this is evident in my portfolio!

screenshot of Christina's portfolio homepage

Growing as a writer

My goal in creating an e-portfolio is to illustrate the progression of my writing, not just in this class, but over the course of my writing career. I want to present myself as a well-rounded writer, capable of writing in different genres and media. My work in this class was primarily fiction, and very little of it was what one typically considers “writing.” So I decided to include some of my more literal “writing” in an attempt to appear well-rounded. I’m adding to my portfolio mostly academic pieces written here at Michigan, although I’m toying with the idea of adding even earlier works, including some newspaper articles I wrote in high school. I guess the real reason I want to include these pieces is that while I am proud of the work I created in this class, it doesn’t really showcase my ability to craft words on a piece of paper. I’m proud of how that crafting skill developed, particularly last year, and I want to present it along with my newfound creative and digital abilities.

Some of the pieces I include also shed a great deal of light on my life. I think these pieces fit well with my theme of “growing as a writer,” because they illustrate some of the ways I’ve grown as a person as well (which can also be seen in the photographs on my home page). When I think about it that way, maybe I should eliminate some of the academic work I’m including and leave just the three pieces that highlight events and developments in my life. Something for me to think about…

What is writing?

It’s interesting to read this article toward the end of my semester in the gateway course, because it makes me reflect on how my personal writing and perceptions of writing have changed over the course of the semester. Clark quotes Andrea A. Lunsford in saying, “we need more expansive definitions of writing along with a flexible critical vocabulary and catalogue of the writing and rhetorical situations”. On one of the very first days in Writing 220 we were asked a question: “What is writing?” We all were required to bring in different examples of writing, which led to a very expansive collection of print and digital, visual and written, past and present writing. My definition was rather limited at the time, and my examples were all classic word-based texts: to-do lists, letters and recipes. I had never been faced with this question before and so never realized the number of answers it has. Writing 220 has definitely expanded my personal definition of writing and the projects have allowed me to experiment with the more visual and digital interpretations of “writing”.

Not only have the projects, especially the remediation project, developed what Clark calls “digital literacy,” but the class blog and the e-portfolio have forced me to create a persona online and digitally represent myself as a writer. While the blog may have given me more anxiety than anything else, I agree with Clark that it allows for collaboration, and I think that’s an important thing to cultivate in students. I’ve always been somewhat shy and self-conscious about my writing – probably why the blog stresses me out sometimes – but I’ve definitely become more comfortable with giving and receiving feedback and opinions from my peers, both through the blog and our in-class peer workshops. I agree with what Clark says are the benefits of an e-portfolio. She says students “look forward to sharing their work with employers in the future” and “actively seek authorship, gaining confidence and a particular authority over their own experiences”. I originally thought I would design my e-portfolio with an audience of my peers in mind, but I’m now creating it with future employers and colleagues in mind as well. I feel very proud of the work I’ve done this semester and how much I’ve developed as a writer and so I feel more comfortable creating my online identity and sharing it with the professional world.