An attempt at objectivity PART II: Reviewing (another) one of my favorite books

I am a history major studying to become a librarian. I know how to find reliable sources and I take the study of history very seriously because I believe that knowing our history is the only way we can move forward in life, as an individual, a society, a culture, and a political system. Movies and TV shows have sensationalized parts of history and, sometimes (most times), portray people of the past of groups from history woefully incorrectly (do not watch “300” with Gerard Butler with me – I will tear that thing apart).

So, it is refreshing to me to find things that try to correct the damage movies like “300” cause. One of my favorite movies growing up was the Disney animated version of “Peter Pan.” However, as I have learned, pirates weren’t really like Captain Hook and Smee. One of my favorite history books is called “Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates” by David Cordingly. Cordingly goes chronologically through one geographic region at a time, touching on the most famous pirates in historical memory and completely tearing down our modern concept of them.

Wow, my completely objective review of this book is that Cordingly is a great historian and engaging writer. Check out this book if you’re interested in pirates!

An attempt at objectivity: Reviewing one of my favorite books

I am studying to be a librarian, so it should come as no surprise that I have a personal catalog of all the books I own (in a program called Airtable, which I love, let me know if you need help with Airtable – I got you). So, when I decided to write this post, I immediately opened up my catalog to figure out which of my favorite books I was going to review. Under the “fiction” filter, I saw a top-three book with the title that I always mix up: “Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?” by Dave Eggers. You probably know Dave Eggers best for “The Circle,” a dystopian novel that was turned into a movie with Emma Watson and Tom Hanks in 2017. He is a fairly well-known author who has churned out more pages of published content than I have probably read in the past few years.

“Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?” calls out American capitalism and individualism in a purposefully, thinly-veiled attempt at more literature than essay. The novel is entirely dialogue, forcing readers to consider words only, instead of setting, prose, etc. Truthfully, it is a grown-up’s version of “Catcher in the Rye.” I first read this book when I was sixteen, right when it came out. With that age being the peak of my uninformed, anti-establishment, “f*ck the American imperialist system” feelings, it spoke to my anger in a way that other books hadn’t before. Perhaps this book is too on the nose, perhaps it should have been a blunt, in-your-face essay, but I read it exactly when I needed to and I think that is why it stays with me.

Challenge Journal #4: Starting a project over and over again

Sitting in my French history class last week, the professor opened his PowerPoint up to a white slide with black, Arial text that simply read “May 1968.” In short, we learned about the uprising by student protesters at the Sorbonne campus in Paris, who were protesting what they saw as the systematic oppression of education by the government – funneling workers into factories instead of encouraging open intellectual discussion. These protests led to strikes across the country, leading non-unionized factory workers to get involved. Riots broke out and led to fights between students armed with rocks and France’s militarized police force with tear gas and clubs. The near-war still sits heavy in national memory and it all started from students’ ideological disagreements with the government.

All this to say, I was inspired. As I sat in class, the rest of my “notes” from that lecture were details that I wanted to include in a story: the origins of the conflict, the theme of ideological disagreement against capitalism, the underdog v. government power – I went on like this for almost a half an hour.

Then, class ended. I packed up everything like normal, still so excited to sit down and write the first scene in my head. So when I sat down in my apartment, leaving my backpack on the floor, I was confused when I couldn’t seem to get myself to write anything. I had details in my head, the entire theme and message of the story planned out in my head – why wasn’t I putting it down?

As this week has passed, I still haven’t written anything, but I found the reason why: I was afraid that it was already written. This is a silly excuse because A, I had no intention of putting this story into the world anyway and B, I had my own vision and idea. However, I still found myself searching through library catalogs, trying to prove to myself that this idea wasn’t original, wasn’t mine, wasn’t important enough to write.

I’m still pushing against that fear today. I want to write this because I think I will enjoy it, it will be fun, and I’ll be able to do historical research, which I really enjoy doing. Do you ever get stuck writing something because you feel like its not an original idea?

Challenge Journal #3: PROCRASTINATION in my last weeks of undergraduate study

As college students, we are all well aware of the dreadful, ever-in-limbo balance of productivity and procrastination. Especially during my senior year, especially after I got a job lined up, I have been hit with a wave of apathy regarding university. I’m tired, I’m burned out from all of this, I will be working at the Library of Congress in a few weeks (flex), and you want me to a four pm class on a Wednesday. The really issue comes down to homework. Finishing those essays and turning in that busy work. When I get home for the night, I have a terrible habit of giving myself a huge to-do list in order to get things done without thinking about the fact that I would like to sleep and eat and hang out with friends.

I have three final essays due in the middle of April, the capstone project being one of them.  The second is a literary review and the last is a research paper. This weekend, I gave myself the task of just outlining those essays, and I have not.

Instead, I researched how I can get over this procrastination hump – just for the next few weeks.

Most people agree that we procrastinate because we’re “immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead.” So, the way to beat it is by giving yourself smaller tasks that add up until you’ve completed the project.  Try to deceive yourself into doing something. Maybe even ask yourself “What’s the next action I’d take on this if I were going to do it, even though I’m not?”

What do you do to beat procrastination?

Challenge Journal #2: Branching out for a grade

Last year in the fall semester, I took a history course on Africa before 1850. The professor was great: he took the material seriously, had class outside, and did not rigidly adhere to the syllabus if there was material his students were more interested in. When finals time rolled about, he assigned us a research paper, the prompt being something along the lines of “write about what you found most interesting this semester,” however, there was a caveat: don’t write an essay.

Most of the students in the course were rather confused. No essay? How are we supposed to do research if we can’t put it into an essay format? The professor wanted us to do research and present our findings in any way other than an essay format. Now, as a person who studies best reading Times New Roman words out of a textbook and who writes to-do list in paragraph form, you could say I was a bit hesitant.

After consulting with other students, I finally decided to create a director’s script for a documentary on my topic: the oldest university in Timbuktu. As I drafted, I let myself go completely; I included pictures, handwritten notes that were written “on set,” maps of filming locations, etc.

I got a B.

Not one to really roll over with that, I emailed the professor for an explanation. Very politely, he said that, while I had the creativity nailed down, my content was lacking – there was not enough correlation between what I was doing and what was taught in class. Begrudgingly, I accepted the feedback and reviewed my work. The professor was right, though I am still reluctant to admit that. I think the reason I got so excited by the “creative” aspect of the assignment was because I had not done any kind of project like that since high school – it was fun to just let ideas come to me and incorporate them. On the other hand though, my excitement prevented me from delving far enough into the material to produce quality research.

Let me know if you have experienced something similar!

Challenge Journal #1: I am writing…occasionally.

My writing ritual is currently dormant. I began writing morning pages in a creative writing class in high school, a practice that teacher described as “taking your shadow out for coffee”; I think he was trying very hard to be poetic. To clarify, morning pages are a practice when you write for five to ten minutes every morning. The only rule is that you cannot stop writing. If you have nothing to write down, you just write “I am writing. I am writing.” until you have your next thought.

Personally, morning pages were a perfect use for all these stupidly small notebooks I had and was a great way to wake up. While the entries weren’t exactly enthralling material – I would venture to say 90% of my morning pages were to do lists or recollections of dreams I had – it allowed me to put myself in the writing mindset from the get-go. It was a productive ritual as much as it was therapeutic, as, every morning, I would plan my day and update a dream journal. Win-win.

This practice also helped me in a creative writing class my sophomore year of college, as every class period we were expected to walk in, write for ten minutes, and create a poem we had written. My practice of writing morning pages certainly helped me produce halfway decent poems, in that sense. As college progressed, though, sleep between the weekdays turned into more of a comma for the week rather than a period for each day (I love that metaphor). The more I began setting my alarm, the easier it was to cut out morning pages. I was so distracted by everything else I was doing at school that I barely even missed the practice. Now, a few years later, when I am confronted with the real world and all those fun questions about what I want to do in and with my life, I want to return to that ritual. School has been full of distractions that make writing anything beyond the essay due next week seem like too much. Morning pages helped put my into the writer mindset every morning; even if I didn’t write something substantial everyday, I had at least written something.

Of course, there are solutions to my lack of writing motivation and mindset. This semester, I have a 9 am class a brisk fifteen minute walk away from my apartment. If I can train my mind to focus, I can substitute the music I barely listen to on that walk for morning pages in my head. The practice of writing these morning pages, for me at least, it not about sitting in the sunlight holding a coffee and pouring my heart out onto paper. It’s a wake up practice for each day, it sparks a deeper internal awareness, and it makes me write, even when I have nothing to say, even if half of the entry is just “I am writing. I am writing.”

P.S. The picture is the spot in my high school where I would sit every morning to write my morning pages.

An Overview of My Writing

Recently, I found a journal of mine from elementary school. This discovery got me thinking a great deal about how much my writing has changed over the years. I remember being that age (eight or nine) and wanting to be a creative fiction writer when I grew up. The funny thing is that I can divide up my ages into epochs of styles of writing that I was obsessed with. For example, when I was twelve and thirteen, I was dedicated to short fiction stories and describing forests (all of my twelve/thirteen year-old stories took place in forests).

To be brief, since I learned how to, I cannot remember tire of writing, especially creatively. Thankfully, my work has grown: both in vocabulary and in actual settings (my stories are not solely based in forests anymore!). The most dramatic difference I can trace in my writing, however, happened between my freshman and sophomore year of college. My academic writing course gave me a framework to look at writing that I had never considered before, and I have been exposed to a wider canon of literature to learn from. Now, to end this professionally, I will pat myself on the back.: good job, Meggie!

Reflections This Far

Looking from where my project began with the initial piece I wanted to revise, it is funny to think of how my project ended up so radically different from what I initially imagined it. This is because I followed my interest in different content matters that popped up. For example, during my first experiment, I thought I would eventually end up writing about the history of sensitivity, or at least of historical reactions to sensitivity. Instead, I am writing about emotional expression in the public sphere as opposed to private. I am also researching in fields that I did not think I would be applicable to my project in order to give it a holistic perspective. All-in-all, this project is turning out to be very different and more expansive than I had planned for it to be, but I think (fingers crossed) it will turn out well.

Choosing A Venue for Gateway Project

Initially, I chose Squarespace for my project because I found a template that checked all of the boxes I had for elements I knew that I wanted to incorporate. However, upon discovering that keeping your website past a two week trial period cost money, I found a similar template on Wix (for free!) that only required a little altering of the format. The template I choose fit with my project structurally: each page flows between the others in a way that suggests that each tab hold different content, yet with a similar background and uniform color/design scheme that does not throw the viewer/reader for a loop. Also, the navigation menu was always present on the top of the site in all tabs. I did not want a disappearing menu because, when I encounter that online, it often feels disorienting. Ease of navigation is crucial, especially if I want my readers to spend time going through the actual work.

Thoughts on Gateway Project

For my gateway project, I am looking at how people observe or react to emotional displays in public as compared to how they wish their own public emotional displays were viewed. I am interested in how I came from my original piece to this, which I will detail in this blog post. Here we go!

When we were asked to think of a written work of ours we would like to revisit, I was awash with ideas, though each piece I thought of had different reasons. One essay I wanted to rewrite because I slacked off and it did not turn out well. Another was an opinion piece, and my opinion had changed in the years afterward. This list and those reasons could continue for awhile, but I eventually settled on a poem I had written for a high school creative writing class. I (like to think I) had become a much better writer and poet in the interim, but there was one line that I really did like and still consider it one of my favorite lines I have written. To be fair, the rest of the poem was complete garbage.

This poem, in essence, talked about childhood hypersensitivity to emotions, pain, noise, etc. While growing as a human numbed down most of the unbearable sensitivity I had as a child, there were still aspects that influenced the way I interacted with the world, and I thought it would be rather interesting to see if anyone else felt that way. I do think I kept that theme in my final project for this class and am excited to see what the numerous surveys and interviews I have reveal.