Challenge Journal 4: Writing as a Medium for Change

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(Apologies in advance for this horridly watermarked image)

As part of my capstone project, I’m interviewing five performers and writing about their experiences as people of color in the world of the performing arts. One of the people I recently interviewed, Yoshiko, spoke extensively about finding ways to marry her interest in writing with her dance major. She spoke about how the world of the performing arts, especially dance, can often feel daunting and esoteric, and thus dance is often as a world inhabited by dancers & dancers alone. She mentioned that written pieces often feel accessible and approachable, even if the reader is unfamiliar with the subject matter. (Of course, there are many factors that go into this — the format in which a written piece is presented and to whom it is primarily presented also affect the piece’s accessibility)

I’ve been thinking about this recently as I prep for graduation. What are ways I can practically apply my writing minor to my career in musical theatre? Of course, I could always intern for a publication like Playbill.com, but I’m wondering if there are less explicit ways to utilize my writing minor to help me achieve my career goals & make a lasting impact on the industry at large.

Many of my goals in musical theatre are centered around furthering diverse representation of all ethnicities on stage. I also am focused on the inequality and injustices that take place in show business, specifically surrounding issues such as sexual harassment and unequal pay between genders. I wonder if there are ways to write about these issues without seeming overly preachy or politically biased and to write about these issues in such a way that I inspire rather than belittle. (I mean…I know there are ways, I just need to think harder about them and actually carve out time to carry them out)  I think that’s what I’d want to use my writing minor for ultimately!

Hmm…I’m still tackling this problem. Honestly, school has me swamped at the moment, and I’m not really expending energy thinking about things that are unrelated to my immediate plans. I probably should, because those things are obviously super important to my own personal integrity as a writer & artist & human being! But I’m just trying to get through the next two weeks of classes! However, I’m holding myself accountable to sitting down the day after classes are over with my notebook & writing down some of my top goals and priorities for the next five years. I’ll keep you posted (:

XO, Jess

Challenge Journal 3: Time & Writing

I think my biggest issue this semester has been finding the time to do all of the things I want to do here before I leave. I’ve been feeling the pressure to say “yes” to every opportunity I’m presented with. This has led me to being in rehearsals all night and classes all day, but I figure this is my last semester to overload before I’m released into the big, bad world of financial independence and a do-it-yourself schedule!

The thought of that is daunting, but I’m also looking forward to graduating because I’ll finally have the time to devote to things that I want to do. In particular, I’m looking forward to having the time to write about things I want to write about, rather than writing about things I’m required to write about. I’ve struggled majorly with this over the past two years: It feels like a waste of time to write — or read — for myself/for pleasure when there’s always so much that could & should be done for my classes.

I want to write more nonfiction essays and poetry. I also want to spend more time crafting pieces that don’t have an end goal or grade in mind, but are rather just for the purpose of self-expression. I think so much of my thinking & work over the past four years has been centered around the future, so I don’t even know what it means to write or work on something without a clear & specific goal in mind. One of my favorite people I worked with was performer Gavin Creel, and he’d always talk about how the show we were working on was about process rather than product. I think that’s relatively rare in our goal-oriented society, and it’s a frame of mind that I’m working towards every day (:

I guess I don’t have a specific *solution* to this problem — I’m just hoping that GRADUATION and finally being done with all of this work that feels kind of arbitrary and aimless will help me to make room for the things that really matter to me!

XO,

Jess

Image from: https://i.pinimg.com/736x/5b/20/40/5b20408f724660f076b46f346004767f–funny-new-year-happy-new-year.jpg

Challenge Journal 2: Amateurs imitate; artists steal.

We’ve been talking about & reshaping the quotation “Bad artists imitate, good artists steal,” in class today, so I figured I would write about it for my second blog post, especially in regards to how it applies to my capstone project!

What does it mean to be a “good” artist? Isn’t art subjective? These are questions I’ve been thinking about as I’ve navigated this topic. When I wrote my own version of the quotation above, I decided to use the words “amateur” and “artist” because I felt that these more accurately encapsulated what I took away from this idea: that inauthentic art is work that lacks confidence and that borrows without any originality, but that authentic art is work that is secure in itself and that CREATES, building upon and advancing what came before it.

As I’ve browsed other capstones, I’ve noted what constitutes a more successful project and what makes a less successful one. Projects that conform pretty clearly to a genre, at least at their foundation, tend to be easier to follow than those that live in a muddy, gray area. I also found project sites with unifying themes and ideas to be more engaging than those that felt haphazardly put together.

As I’ve begun to work on my own project (creating a resource site/blog for young performers of color in musical theatre), I’ve been thinking about how I, too, can “steal,” building upon the ideas of capstone projects that came before me and on the additional resources I am using for inspiration, without half-heartedly imitating them. I want to do more than copy — I want to create and make my project my OWN! In my performance classes, we talk about how when you bring an audition song into a room, it should be so uniquely yours that the audition panel wouldn’t be able to imagine anyone else singing that song. I think the same applies for this project! I want my site to feel grounded in my personal passion for and love of what I do.

I don’t know if I’ve come up with any solutions in the course of this post, but I’m going to continue working towards creating something that is so “mine,” it could never be mistaken for anything that came before it! I’ll keep you posted (:

 

Image from: https://broomsticker.co.uk/Banksy_v_Picasso_Bad_artists_imitate._Great_artists_steal. 

Challenge Journal: Writing and Rituals

My life is replete with rituals. Before I sing, I do lip trills. Before I dance, I stretch. Before I act, I warm up both my body and my voice. I wake up each morning and spend a few minutes focusing on my breathing; I do the same before I sleep.

As a musical theatre major, I am acutely aware of how my body and voice feels every day and what warm-ups I have to do in order to activate my muscles and release the physical tension I’m carrying. Even on days when I drag myself out of bed and perform these warm-ups on autopilot, every stretch, every note, and every scale has a purpose. These warm-ups are rituals, and they are almost more important than the work that follows them. These warm-ups make me feel as though I have mastery over my mind and body. These warm-ups take me to the emotional and physical place I need to be in to begin my work. The chair of my department always says, “All good actors have a process,” and I have spent the past year attempting to cultivate a process that works for me.

Contrastingly, I don’t think I’ve ever had a ritual when it comes to writing. To me, writing has always felt as though I were venturing into the unknown: I never know what’s going to come out of me, and I’m always a little apprehensive of what I’m creating. I suppose my writing “problem,” then, is that I don’t have a process. At the moment, writing feels like guesswork. I don’t devote nearly enough time to it, and the act of writing (or preparing to write) never feels sacred in the same way that my work in my major does.

I guess one of my goals for this final semester of school is to figure out a “ritual” that works for me when I write. My favorite place to work is this cute little cafe on East Liberty Street (they have the best matcha lattes); perhaps, then, one of my rituals for writing is going to be to get out of my cramped apartment and into an environment where I can be alone without feeling lonely. I think I also want to use whatever rituals I incorporate as a means of freeing myself up so that I filter my writing less. I feel as though I’m always writing with a final product in mind, and I want to start approaching my writing homework less as a means to an end and more just as a thing in and of itself. Of course, eventually, I’ll have to pare down my work so that it has a thesis, but I want to be able to start each assignment freely without fear of judgement or imperfections. I think I’m going to start using mind maps more as a way to do this!

I’m looking forward to turning writing into more of a process this semester. I’m hoping that I get to a similar place in my writing as I feel in my work as an artist. And I hope that implementing these rituals will help me to continue to cultivate my voice as a writer 🙂

Manifesto: What do you believe/value about writing?

Not sure how I feel about this manifesto, but here goes…

All good writing is a kind of POETRY.
All good writing has a LIFE of its own.
The words tumble off the page and into the hearts and minds of the reader.
All good writing has a voice.
Find your voice.
All good writing stems from INSPIRATION
From reading, from nature, from conversations.
There is NO such thing as an original thought.
All good writing takes you outside of yourself.

Not all writers are “good writers.”
Not everything I think is “good” is “good.”
All good, useful writing has a PURPOSE:
An ENGINE that drives the narrator forwards towards some final, triumphant finale.

Advice to Future Gateway Students

Hey!

I should preface this by saying that you should take all of this advice with a grain of salt. After all, do any of us really know what we’re talking about? Feel free to take any advice that works for you and to leave out the stuff that feels wishy-washy, too corny, or just not “you.”

That being said, here are my 4 tips for surviving (and thriving!) in the gateway course:

1) STAY ON TOP OF IT. There is more due in this class than you think. There are little writing assignments to do on top of reading on top of bigger papers on top of smaller papers. The deadlines for this class are pretty flexible, so just try to keep up with updated deadlines as they come and to maintain some sort of calendar so that you know what is due and when.

2) LOOK AHEAD. I’m a musical theatre major, and I knew going into this that I’d be in rehearsals for THE LITTLE MERMAID starting from spring break onwards. I tried to front-load some of the work that I had to do (especially with the bigger projects in the course). You can do this by working on your e-Portfolio regularly and just being aware of deadlines so you aren’t in over your head (see #1).

3) READ! I can’t think of a better piece of advice to improve your writing than this. I confess that I don’t have as much time as I’d like to read for fun, but still. Read as much as you can. Read blogs, read books, read newspapers, read magazines, read pieces published on online platforms. Do what you can to understand the different formats and styles you are writing for. I am working on this every day. Also: commit to knowing and using correct grammar!!!! Notice grammatical structures as you read! Employ them wisely! (Can you tell this is my pet peeve?)

4) USE YOUR COMMUNITY. Your teachers and your classmates are here for you. I wish I’d had more time to really apply this one tip to my own time in the gateway course. The people around you will you be your resources if you let them. Befriend them! Start a GroupMe! Go to Ben & Jerry’s together!

I hope some of these tips prove even the slightest bit useful. I remember reading these advice posts just three short months ago and wondering if I’d ever survive the gateway course. And I made it! You can — and will — too 🙂

Jess

WRITING 220: Observations about connections

For this assignment, we were asked to write about connections/disconnections. I wrote a very, very, very short page/list/thing on connections:

At first, this seemed straightforward. But when I got to thinking about it, I realized just how vague this assignment prompt is. So I’ll list some things that come to mind when I think of “connections”:

  1. Running through the Frankfurt Airport to catch a flight home to New Zealand, my hair flying wild and untamed behind me, suitcase pumping against the ground like an angry fist.
  2. Seeing a friend from Singapore and a friend from Belgium met and fell in love in college. Feeling a prickle of guilt that reminds me of my own loneliness and of the fact that the world is often too small.
  3. Floating and threaded together: an umbilical cord. Life is in that wire, and in the heartbeat that flutters defiantly against walls that are not its own.

Off the Beaten Path

(This draft considers my writing process for academic purposes. I didn’t really consider the fact that I could also detail my process when writing for pleasure until I had already written this. Oops!)

If I could control my own writing process, it’d go something like this: I would receive an assignment prompt. As soon as I got home, I’d sit down (my brain teeming with ideas) and design a colorful, sprawling mind map. Each neatly and carefully drawn bubble would correspond to a different body paragraph in my essay. Shortly afterwards, I would hand-write a draft in twirling cursive, the words tumbling out of me Nabokov-style in a half-creative, half-logical exchange.

That’s how I wish my writing process would go. I crave the structure of knowing exactly where my thoughts are going. I long to be able to effortlessly pair together seemingly incongruous words. I yearn to form sentences that mesmerize. In short, I want writing to be easy.

But usually, writing feels a lot like digging for quarters right before doing my laundry — necessary, desperate, and full of dread. When I begin embarking on the uncharted territory that is an assignment prompt, I have no idea where I’m going. I’ll think anxiously about the assignment for several days, chewing on it as I ride the bus home. I’ll fall asleep with it on the back of my mind, I’ll brainstorm out loud as I shower, and I’ll meticulously pore over the Internet for hours on the hunt for an inspired idea.

Eventually, I will officially take a step forward into the unknown: I’ll figure out something I want to write about. And 99% of the time, it’s trite and not even CLOSE to inspired, but it’s always a seed of an idea. (At this point, I constantly have to remind myself that it’s not necessarily what you write about, but how you write about it.) 

Next comes the germination stage of my writing — this involves getting my thoughts out into the universe. I do this by essentially projectile-vomiting words onto my laptop screen and forming them into some sort of a draft (although I do sometimes wonder whether writing by hand would be a little more…I don’t know…creative? Less prescriptive? But typing so far has worked for me). Writing the first draft is a stilted process — my introductions are written after my conclusions, body paragraphs are jumbled up as I develop later ideas before earlier ideas — but these paragraphs eventually join into a cohesive whole that, no matter how crappy, leaves me feeling extremely relieved. I consider completing this milestone to be reaching a base camp of sorts.

Perhaps the most important stage in the growth of my essay is revision. My favorite English professor John Rubadeau always says that “Good writing is the revision of shit drafts.” And I’ve learned that he’s right. No matter how awful I think my first draft is, I’m always surprised by how many good (or, at the very least, semi-good) ideas are embedded inside of all of the garbage.

I always have to let my first draft simmer for a few days. Once I’ve had some distance from my paper, I’ll begin the revision process by carving out the few gems I can find, outlining a very general structure to organize them, and then rewriting, rewriting, and rewriting. On we go!

(At this stage, it always helps to receive peer reviews or to get a friend to look at my paper. It helps to have a set [or sets] of objective eyes to tell me what’s wrong, what’s missing, what’s extraneous, etc.)

As my deadline looms closer than ever, I’ll print out my final draft. I’ll painstakingly read it aloud until I’ve identified every possible mistake I can locate. Then I’ll painstakingly reread it backwards. I emphasize painstakingly here because I am, unfortunately, as Type A as it gets, and so I stubbornly cannot let go of any potential errors until the paper is safely nestled in the hands of my professor. Now is when I begin to exhale — the end is in sight!

When I finally give my work in, I’m usually surprised to note at the new life I’ve created in my hands. I’ll admit that, sometimes, it’s a life that’s already withered. But sometimes, it’s a life that promises to produce another set of seeds and sprouts.

It’s always gratifying to know that what I’ve written is a living, breathing argument; I’m always a little proud of myself when I write something that goes on a journey.

After all, each time I write, I do too.

WRITING 220 Introduction: Jessica Gomes-Ng

Hey!

I’m Jess, and I’m a junior majoring in Musical Theatre and minoring in…lots of suspense here…Writing!

I’m from Auckland, New Zealand. My family and my puppy (aka the love of my life) reside there:

Outside of my major, I’m interested in a bunch of different things, including travel, photography, fashion, and community service!

When I was little, I used to write unfinished draft after unfinished draft of stories. I loved (and still love) reading. I’ve always had a strong interest in writing, and I was pretty confident I would be an English major in college. But in my junior/senior year of high school, I had this truly uninspiring teacher who made me fall out of love with the idea of studying English in college, and I ended up pursuing other avenues.

That all changed when I came to U of M! Aside from completing UMich’s standard writing requirements, I ended up enrolling in Dr. John Rubadeau’s ENG425 class. This class was truly quite transformative for me. I loved every minute in it, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is even remotely interested (or even anyone who isn’t — he’ll change your mind) in writing.

Last year, I realized that I’m very passionate about getting my voice out there! Not only am I interested in songwriting, but I also am so fascinated by how technology has changed the way that literature & writing is shared with the world. I trust that this minor will help me to further develop my voice and become a versatile writer, reader, and thinker.