Capstone Challenge: Reflection

I am less panicked about my project now. I still have to edit and refine whatever I have written but it’s about done. There are many things to reflect about the process of doing this project but here are two lessons that I’ve learned along the way:

  1. UMich Library is great

When I decided to do my project on food behaviors and how those behaviors enacted culture, I was overwhelmed by the narrow focus that this subject had. Google did not help as much as I had hoped for and I felt I had an impossibly difficult task ahead of me. So, I put off the real content of my project and focused too much on the personal narrative aspect of the project. Driven by mid-semester panic, I went to the library website and only got books on culture that were written in Korean and Japanese (I was focusing on East Asian culture that time). I couldn’t remember what I tried after but I went back home with six books on the subject matter. While gathering the books, I came across a whole aisle of books on food and culture, and people do academically study and write about food culture.

I figured that resources are abundant. In any writing task, no matter how obscure and impossible, there are resources. They can come in many forms. What is more important is having the right toolkit to search for these resources. I usually start any kind of research-based writing with Google. It’s a no-brainer. But usually with so much materials already on Google, I never really explored other options. I think that being in a college that provide its students with access to good resources, paired with doing projects, help so much in building the right toolkit. This is what my housemate (who already graduated many years ago) means when she says college is about building skills and techniques.

2. Workshop is important

Sad to say I have had to miss many workshops due to illness and work. But on the days that I’ve had workshops, I’ve gotten helpful feedbacks on things that would help the writing process. I think that workshop is an important session where writers get to get together and exchange ideas on what tools they use to begin and continue writing. Somehow it creates a sense that we are all in this together and writers are not lonely people. 

It also teaches me to understand things from other writer’s perspective. Sometimes I really want a certain writing to sound a certain way that I like. But with workshop, it’s important to have the other writer’s intentions in mind and offer feedbacks on the things that they intent to do. In short, workshop is the session to help the writer get to their goals, not my imagined goals for them.

Learning is good, but after I finish the class (and the minor), I wonder when else will I get to write and be among a community of writers. It seems like while in college, my motivation to write, write, write is deadline because deadline = grades. I’ve tried many times, over the years, to get into the habit of blogging but knowing that other people (read: strangers who I don’t even know about) have free access to my writings and thoughts. That just seems scary. With writing in class, however, my audience is my lecturer, GSI and classmates. I know them.

Capstone Challenge 4: Project check-in

It’s April and it’s still cold. That’s the norm now I guess.

Anyway, my capstone website is up. It’s far from being done but it feels more surreal now that I am actually doing a project, like it’s not just a writing class. I find that tackling a big project is overwhelming. Even while doing the project, I still get overwhelmed by it. I think about the project everyday, drawing inspirations from what I see and heard while I was walking to class or back to my apartment. This project has consumed me.

Now big project always scares me because I am afraid of starting and not making progress and not having a good enough topic, etc. I’ve done other projects in my life before but none of those feel as scary as this one. To be honest, I am the slowest when it comes to researching and typing up my project. Besides other school work, I guess I was too scared to start writing because it’s just unthinkable that I can produce such a long and huge writing project. But my site is up and there are some writings on it. What I find helpful is to just start writing, even if that means I write badly. This reminds me of what Jim said to Pam, that is to get the bad ideas out first so that more brain space can be freed up for good ideas.

So once I started writing, I find that the process is not as hurtful as I imagined it to be. It still sucks but it sucks my soul less. Sometimes I find it weird that I’m a writing minor but I really hate writing long papers. I’m not good at writing long papers because I don’t have many things to say. I mean there aren’t any better way to say “I hate oranges” than “I hate oranges.” I’m not a fan of “I find that I have a strong aversion to the citrus fruit by the name oranges.” That’s just unnecessary. (side story: I had to read a few application essays from my friends and wow filler words everywhere. If I only learn one thing from science classes, it is that being concise is better than being sophisticated)

This is all I have for this post. Write on, everyone!

(side story 2: I’m bummed that I will miss the showcase but I’ll be sure to visit everyone’s websites!)

Capstone Challenge 3: Choices

In class yesterday, Ray asked “what is your favorite font?” I figured that Ray liked to ask seemingly random questions and then went on to talk about how these questions were necessary for our projects. He said that the font we chose for our projects mattered because different fonts can have different impacts on reading speed, tone, perception, etc.

The same can be said for many other choices that we make in our writings. One thing that I am considering a lot for my project is tone. I want to have a ‘light’ tone and do not sound like death. But sometimes the things that I want to say in my project needs a serious tone. This is another choice, besides font and color palette and which research to include, that the project makes me do. During peer review for almost all of the writing classes I’ve had, I would always point out tonal shift or tonal change in other people’s writings. Tonal change sounds odd, as if the writer is confused. But I wonder if making a tone change can be a writer’s tool? Can shifting tone leaves a good effect on the writing?

This reminds me of my gateway experiments. In this post, I talk about the different genres I’ve explored throughout that semester. The content of these experiments are the same, but they are written in different forms, and with that, different tones. I notice that some genres can convey what I want to say better than other genres. So I guess my choice of tone for this capstone project depends on what I want to convey and what is the best way to convey my intention.

Capstone Challenge 2: Presence

I was talking to Ray about changing the topic of my capstone project. One of the topics that I suggested was the relevance of monarchy in Malaysia. In the end, I abandoned that idea and proceeded with my original choice – “Getting Cultured.”

Ray said that sometimes things are worth writing and should be written but should not be published. I think that’s true. Even when both Malaysia and the US practice freedom of speech, some things should not be put out there. That got me thinking about presence. In this day and age, we find it important to have an online presence. Some might say that online presence makes it easy for recruiters to find you, you can reach out to a wider range of people, etc. But this ease in which people can get information about someone is just scary. I have made years and years of online marks and that makes me uncomfortable.

But not everything is bad. Drawing the line between good and bad is difficult, but worth trying. So here is my attempt at categorizing what should and shouldn’t be shared online:

Share These Online

  • Gateway and capstone projects
  • Writings and essays from school assignments, after they have been graded
  • Pictures of your pets, and nature

Do Not Share These Online

  • Your rage
  • Unfinished thoughts
  • Overtly detailed personal stories (i.e.; Right now, I’m staying at this AirBnB, in this city, in this state and country)

Capstone Challenge 1: Brevity

For the capstone project, I am creating a mini web magazine called “Getting Cultured.” The magazine focuses on different cultural grocery stores, but for the launch of the project, I plan to focus on one store only. The project allows me to fully engage with this store and know everything there is to know about the store and the culture surrounding that store. The idea for this project starts from my friend and I going to art museum trying to be more “cultured” and then I talk to Jack and somehow the words “grocery” and “magazine” pop into my mind. So here it is – getting cultured about grocery stores presented in the form of magazine.

I want to engage this project using many modals – texts, videos, photos, etc. This multi-modal exploration is an extension of my personal Minor in Writing theme that is brevity – brevity to explore other writing styles. I am a boring person and I do not like taking risks, but the MiW program has challenged me to not be boring. I am also a competitive person, so of course this challenge appeals to me. My work prior to Gateway was very monotonous. My Gateway work was more colorful. It was truly a gateway for me to start exploring other genres of writing. This Capstone will be another episode of me trying to be more brace in my writing.

One thing I’ve learned from this process is that it will suck so much. I will want to try something really cool (read: podcast) and then I will fail or run out of time and then I will decide maybe it is not the thing for me. I don’t really mind if I fail. I have low standard for myself for something that I try for the first time (which is to say the standard gets higher every time I try that something more than once. This is also “The Office” reference). This will suck. I will criticise myself for being too ambitious. But there will be something else that I don’t feel too excited about but will turn into something I suprisingly like doing. So I end up trying many different things in a ‘journey’ to discover what I like best. It will feel horrible but that is okay. One day I will thank myself for putting myself into this ‘journey’ but that day doesn’t need to happen in the future. I think today is that day – I want to thank myself, for applying to MiW program which snowballs into many things – trying out poetry, screenplay and soon magazine. Eeeks!

To future MiW students

You probably have read a lot of these advices so far. Mine is not any different from the others. See it as a reflection on “Things About the MiW Gateway That I Wish I Had Known Earlier”

  • Be adventurous

Do not be afraid to write in the genres that you have never tried before. Take this opportunity to explore other types of writings and know that you have your instructor and classmates to help you out. This is the time for you to write that poem you have always wanted to write, or the elaborate scenes and plot that you have been writing in your head. Going into this head on will feel daunting, but be bold. You’ve got this!

  • Be open to changes and surprises

Sometimes how your experiments turn out will surprise you. Be accepting of it. Most importantly, be kind to yourself. Things might have turned out that way because it is your first time writing in a different genre, or maybe because during that time you also have thirteen exams going on. Again, be kinder to yourself.

  • Meet your instructor

T is amazing! Whenever you feel lost or unsure of what is going on in class, schedule a meeting with your instructor. They know best what is expected of you for the class. They can also guide you to frame your thoughts. They have really cool office spaces too! I always come back from T’s office with a new reading material added to my to-read list.

  • Enjoy the class

At one point, the gateway class will feel like “just another class.” Those days are inevitable, but live on for joyful days when writing class is a time to wind down from other demanding classes. When I say enjoy the class, what I mean is make full use of it. Engage with the class materials and activities.

Writer’s manifesto

I have always known and understand manifesto as a politican’s tool to gain followers. So at some point during the semester when T and my fellow classmates mentioned manifesto, I wondered why would I need to write a manifesto? I am not a politician. It was not until I met with T and brought up this matter that I realized the manifesto we were talking about was a writing different than my normal writer’s voice. A manifesto is different and strong, and not necessarily only meant for politicians.

Free writings and Ricola Readings

At the start of every class, we will spend four minutes for free writing. Sometime during the middle of the semester, we start having Ricola readings where a random name will be pulled out from a Ricola candy packet and the person would have to read their writing. Here are some of my free writings from those four minutes:

Prompt: A City

Prompt: Ricola readings

Prompt: Light

Prompt: Favorite color (or favourite colour)

Prompt: Weird texts

Yes, I have different handwritings for different days.

A season of discovering possibilities

All of my writing experiments this semester had been exploratory. I took risk to work on different genres. I wrote something I had never written before, something I had always wanted to try, and something that Alia from the 1920s would write.

Experiment 1 – was new. Script writing was something that I never thought I would do because: 1) I was never taught how to write a script, and 2) I didn’t know scriptwriting was ever an option, and 3) I was taught only scriptwriters write scripts, not people like me, non-scriptwriters, and 4) I didn’t really go to plays (I’ve started going to a few and they were, actually, fun). Families and friends who knew me would understand that the prospect of me writing a script was close to saying I acted in a play. It’s just never going to happen, but it did happened with scriptwriting and I’m glad it did. What I really liked from this experiment was navigating through a different genre than I used to. The format was unusual, the terminology was a new set of vocabulary and the process was distinct (these are all synonyms for ‘different.’ I have limited vocab). Even the library was different! I never would have guessed we have a library dedicated to only scripts! So throughout this experiment, I had a new outlook on writing and that writing can mean so many things to so many people. My experience of writing was different than your experience of writing, but through this experiment I got to feel what it meant to write a script. (It meant getting into character and acting it out even though to your roommate you look like you’re talking to yourself. Tell them, “It’s art”)

Lunch, lab and script for Ratatouille

Experiment 2 – was a shock.

Poetry writing



(Really? A ballad?!)

Experiment 3 – was my savior, an inner tribute to my dead cat. I wrote diary entries, from the point of view of a cat. This experiment challenged me to write something periodical in a non-periodical way. People wrote diary entries within years and I wrote this experiment within weeks. So it felt out-of-touch that in one real day, I had to imagine I had lived five days. Still, due to the personal connection of reminiscing my cat’s life, I decided to pursue this as the final project.

You know how Americans say pets are their babies, then Experiment 1 was my baby that I cradled with joy. Experiment 2 was an honest mistake(?) and experiment 3 was a celebration of my cat’s vibrant life. But for all of them, I discovered writing differently was possible and not scary. Although it was a bit painful to be going out of my comfort zone of rigid academic writing. It was like getting out of bed on February 23rd for an 8AM class that you enjoy going to.

Cat’s autobiography

I’ve probably said the word “cats” too many times this semester.

I’ve been writing about cats for all of my experiments and they are all attempts to experiment on a compare-and-contrast essay I’ve written somewhat a year ago. In that essay, I compare cats to humans and what we can learn from cats about being interdependent. After experimenting with script writing, poetry writing and journaling, I have decided to continue the journal experiment into the final project for this class.

I am very much looking forward to read all the models for this project. I have these models in my list now:

  1. “Gramma” by John S. Owen
  2. “Diary of a Cat: True Confessions and Lifelong Observations of a Well-Adjusted House

    Cat” by Leigh Rutledge

  3. “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes (not about cat but from this book, I want to focus on the diary as a genre and its convention)

Perhaps I am most excited to read the models because I have always wanted for a cat to talk in human languages. So these models (well, except the third one) could help me live out my imagination of talking cats. I think cats are quirky creatures and in writing they are always portrayed as this very lofty and non-chalant character. They sound like annoying sister characters in movies and films. But we still love them. The cats.

Compared to the other two experiments, this journal is written fully from the cat’s point-of-view. I find this difference between all my experiments to be the reason I want to make this the final project. The challenge for me is to write about humans as if I am separate from them. I think it’s a useful strategy to ponder and discover more about our behaviors because if we view ourselves from a humanistic view, we tend to be biased and too forgiving. So if a cat were to comment about us, they will be brutally honest but it’s true honesty.

I can’t wait to see where this project is taking me. Will it make me discover more about interdepence? Will it make me want more cats? We’ll see.