Challenge Blog #4- Skipping Class to Learn

When I first came to the university, I cried when I skipped class for the first time.

I know I was/am not alone in feeling this, but I was so wrapped up in performance as a part of my identity. The thought of missing a class—or even going to the bathroom during class—made me anxious about the information I could possibly miss (which would certainly be on the class exam and thus cause me to fail the class, and by extension, relegate me to a life without a T-14 law school and a happy life).

It challenged the only anchored pillar of my ipseity.

Uncertainty has always been an uneasy experience for me. Having multiple chronic illnesses is college have forced me to continue confronting this reality.

In a lot of ways, my experience with my capstone project has mimicked my tenuous relation with uncertainty. I am lucky to have my writing mostly complete for my capstone (is anyone good at titles, help!), but there remain unanswered questions.

Is my language the correct way to confront these issues? Are my horror elements too superficial? Am I drawing false similarities between contemporary life and the supernatural? Does my project even matter? Am I being too vulnerable in a way that is isolating?

Contributing to my uncertainty is the requirement of a website. I came into the project knowing that my capstone would be housed on a website, but did not give this standard more than a cursory acknowledgement. Now, I am confronted with a piece, full of my hopes and worries, that will almost certainly never measure up to my vision because I do not have the skills (or money) to make a website capable of realizing my vision.

At the surface, maybe this realization this should give me an “out” in some manner, though it does not feel that way. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn how to put my work in the platforms of the age. At the same time, this house does not feel like a home—at least, not yet.

I am trying a new thing: narrowing the scope of my agency within my own project. By limiting what I can be responsible for, I am hoping that I might have some planned accidents!

If anyone has any suggestions, I would be grateful to hear them. Hope everyone is enjoying their last couple weeks with your capstone babies!

Challenge Blog (A cry for help!) #3

I have been up since 5 AM working on asylum briefs for unaccompanied minors in Michigan. I just got an influx of work last night and, because there are lives on the line, feel responsible to get the work done as quick as possible.

My problem isn’t procrastination—at least not all the way. My problem is that I do not feel the sense of urgency that I need to, in order to make my project what I really want it to be. It isn’t for lack of trying, either. I always want to be doing my capstone project, but I am paralyzed by how I want it to be.

Simply, when I have free time that I am too tired to do much, I do my other work instead of the capstone. I don’t want to use my “tired headspace” to write something important to me (I’ll save that for my political science classes!). But because I keep waiting for the perfect time—when I feel confident, inspired, and most importantly, healthy—I don’t feel the urgency to start.

I am not ignorant of the idea of a “shitty” first draft. In fact, most writing classes almost demand this of students. But when I read my shitty first drafts back, my ideas same chaotic and I spend more time figuring out what I really meant to say instead of moving forward with the project.

I don’t think that this problem exists independently of other motivation problems, but it has a unique paradox contained within it. One technique I am going to try going forward is to make more mini-projects that can be accomplished with limited brain space. I am also thinking that my problem is less with planning than it is with execution—so maybe I can plan in a worse headspace enough that the execution will be smoother.

Let me know if you guys have any other suggestions! Looking forward to seeing everyone’s projects!

Reading & Writing… and Writing Without Reading? (CJ #2)

It is hard to imagine writing without reading…but what happens when reading impairs your ability to write? This is the problem I am currently facing in two dimensions.

First, I constantly reread what I have already written. This is partially driven by my omnipresent brain fog, but also because I am preoccupied with making my writing flow well. The first time. Rationally, I know it is a tall order to write seamless sentences and paragraphs on the first draft…but I hate when my writing is disorganized. In my experience, not taking the time to properly set up my piece just amounts to more work longterm (and more work that I end up needing to cut out entirely).

The second component of this is reading too much information. Every time I begin to write, I realize the infinite things I do not know about the topic. I stress over using the precise words to convey what I am saying, what is culturally appropriate, etc. When I find information that confirms that I can be writing with more precision, we are back at dimension #1 (rereading what I have read and editing it!).

These problems are easily written off as superficial and easily resolved. But I think the underlying problem, I believe, is one of trust and responsibility. Do I trust myself to have already written what I needed to say yesterday, in a way that is still relevant today? Do I trust myself enough to believe I am not writing contradictions? And does my one story carry the weight of everyone affected by it?

There is so much to learn and so little time. But I am trying a new technique where I write a list of the things I do know before I begin writing, and using sticky notes to indicate where I last left off. Not a foolproof method (I have definitely already cheated) but I am hoping the end result might make me a more confident writer. My health is so unpredictable and unruly that I love to exercise power over the small things I can control, instead of trusting that my writing will work itself out!

Please let me know if you have any other suggestions! Thanks for reading 😊

Capstone Challenge Journal: Writing for Others as a *Problematic* Survival Technique

One of the biggest writing problems I have is one most of you can probably relate to. It is inextricably tied to the institutionalization of education and the experiences of those of us caught between Generation Y and Z.

The problem is that I have been taught to write for others.

It was innocuous at first. An encouraging comment by an elementary school teacher that “I was a good writer.” The mindless adoption of this belief by peers and (more problematically) by myself.  The overeager desire by adults and educators to discover student potential—which always came poorly disguised as yearly “All About Me” posters and crude academic tracking. All of this was reinforced by institutional structures that rewarded instantaneous aptitude. The implicit understanding that identities were amalgams of these aptitudes, each of which could be discretely categorized as “good” or “bad.”

I think this experience is distinct to the generational space we live in. We learned to cling to what we were told we were good at, and to drop anything we were immediately not proficient at, or better yet, never to try in the first place. I was good at writing and bad at math. I did not question this fundamental truth and high proficiency became a survival technique. You can imagine how much fun my therapist has with me!!!

This is extremely problematic for me as a writer. Because I grew up believing that I was good at writing, I thought it should always come easily. I believed that I would always be good at writing, since early categorizations were fixed through academic tracking. I learned to expect to get the highest grade on anything involving writing; getting anything less than best was devastating because it called into question my entire identity.

Accordingly, my writing is very dependent on the reader. I tend to subvert the validity of my writing to the whims of a single reader (for example, a bad grade on a paper automatically transforms a previously decent essay into worthless trash).  My most memorable experience with this in college was in a political science class where I was earning poor grades on essays despite going into office hours and doing more research than was required. Even though other people were also struggling in the class, I felt like I had to be exceptional in some way (which is extremely toxic thinking).

I think my preoccupation is a variant of Tharp’s first concern that “people will laugh at me.” Tharp rationalizes that people she respects will not laugh and that her critics have previously been proven wrong. Both her and my concerns draw strength from external criticism and some level of personal shame. However, I don’t believe Tharp’s rationalization solves mine exactly because I am trying to reach people who I might not even respect.

With these things in mind, I hope to have a ritual that is both compatible with my identity as a chronically ill student and someone who feels like I always have something to prove. I think I need to try writing with less thinking about its permanent implications. I am wondering if the stream of consciousness writing that we discussed in class might help. I also wonder if I start writing with the intention of never sharing it, I might find a more relaxing ritual.

Please let me know if you have a similar experience or preoccupation, and/or what you have done that has helped or not helped. Thanks for reading!

Tracking an Author

After many Margaret Talbot searches, New York Times recommended to me an article in its opinion section called “The #MeToo Stories We’re Not Hearing.” After Time named the Silence Breakers 2017’s Person of the year and having personally participated in the movement, I decided the article was worth a try.

The first thing I noticed was that the author was a man, which was interesting because he only wrote about female victims. The female victims he talked about were women who had experienced sexual violence, protected themselves in someway, and ended up being incarceration for their actions. He describes that while some of the stories do get recognized through celebrities and viral hashtags, there are many more similar stories that are never heard. He quotes one of the victims who powerfully states “Abuse is protected by silence.”

#MeToo has been a mass national reckoning of rape and sexual abuse. I, like many women, have learned (often through experience) that I am not safe. I have learned to be vigilant when I walk home at night, when I accept attention or conversation in a public place, and even when I am in my home. And someday, I am going to have to teach my daughter how to do the same things–how to toe the line between the woman’s responsibility of “prevention” and the expectation of feminine warmth and sociability. It is sad that I’ve become so jaded!

Tracking an Author

Been a little under the weather and tired of writing essays so I decided to listen to a podcast by Margaret Talbot. It is a piece from 2010 on Slate’s DoubleX Gabfest titled “Sex by Surprise.” The first thing they discuss is the Sweedish rape charges against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Margaret gives a short summary of the events. She describes the charges were ambiguous and not really traditional assault–instead they use the Sweedish term “sex by surprise.” The first two charges revolve around consensual sex but that Assange did not want to wear a condom or get STD tested; the third charge involved him having sex with a woman while she was asleep.

Talbot thinks that the people might be all suspicious, because of the conspiracy-laden world the women live in based on their understanding. All members of the podcast agree that it might have just been a loose claim to hold Assange on some charges so they didn’t have to track him down.

Interesting account of American perceptions of rape policies that are far more strict than the ones in the US.

Tracking an Author

With all of the high-profile sexual assault allegations in the news this past month, I decided to see if Margaret Talbot had written anything on rape. Not surprisingly she has, but not in the way I imagined. She published an article in the New Yorker entitled “Reporting on Rape” in 2014. The article discusses a case where there were allegations of a gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity. The original information, published by Rolling Stone, appeared to not be true upon closer investigation. This led Talbot to her own questions–how to we report on rape?

Some of the problems Talbot identifies deal with the responsibilities of reporting and the sensitive nature of sexual assault. In the U of VA case, the journalists failed to get in touch with the accused, saying that the fraternity’s Facebook page was outdated and the accused were hard to reach. Talbot states how it is difficult to talk to sources that may contradict a person who is vulnerable, whom you empathize with and trust. However, that is a crucial part of journalism–making sure that you get all the information. However, this concept also contradicts the fact that often the best exposures of wrongdoing start with one whistle-blower. Talbot comes to the conclusion that truth-seeking–digging for the hard facts–should not make a case weak, but stronger.

Interesting perspective into journalism and dealing with sexual assault allegations when you empathize/relate to the victim.

Tracking an Author

How many more of these do I have???

This time, I looked at one of Margaret Talbot’s work on a different platform, the New Yorker. In 2009, she did a long article called “Brain Gain” which follows the use of neuroenhancers in academic and professional environments. Like many of her stories, she starts out by following Alex, a Harvard student who uses Adderall to complete work. Talbot details the obligations that Alex has each day, from running a student organization, to work, to studying. Alex describes the rationale to Adderall; people use it not to be the top student, but to be in upper levels of student achievement, or even just to do better than what they normally would have. These students are not delusional–they know that a paper written late at night on Adderall will not be as good as one written a week before the deadline with editing; they are just trying to get the job done.

She then discusses findings by a U of M researcher: users are more likely white male undergraduates at a competitive university, they are more likely to be in the Northeast, likely to belong to a sorority or fraternity, and have a GPA of 3.0 or lower. They also are ten times more likely to have smoked marijuana in the last year and twenty times as likely to say that they have used cocaine. She also discusses how common use is on campus, stating that college chat rooms used concurrently with studying are flooded with advice and offers about securing neuroenhancers. People develop strategies for how to take the pills for maximum efficiency and share them with others.

Overall, this article aligns with the content of her later work, but is different from what I normally read on the New Yorker. In general, the New Yorker tends to be verbose and targeted at a highly-educated elite class. However, this article pretty accessible and more like her New York Times work. I am interested why the New Yorker deviated from their standard content form.

Project Update

I guess I missed the memo that we were supposed to do one of these! Anyway I changed the idea for my project a little while ago to be a picture slideshow type thing based off of “Faces of an Epidemic” that I discussed in an earlier blog post. I rented out a camera, and took pictures and interviewed people with mental health conditions on campus. It has been a really interesting experience so far (I wish I had the time to do more, but at the same time I think the length then would make it a little inaccessible to other people). I wanted to shoot some video too but I ended up having actually too much content, so I cut the slides and pictures down. It is up on my website but there are some issues with formatting that I am still figuring out.  Excited to show everyone!

Tracking an Author

All the feels for Talbot’s article titled “Best in Class.” Talbot follows the lives of valedictorians and the increasing competition of the title. What Talbot describes could be better characterized as warfare. In the opening anecdote, a student becomes Valedictorian by taking an easy introductory algebra class after figuring out that GPA ties are broken by amount of credits. The ensuing chaos involves parents, boycotts of graduation, and conflicts that divide not just the school but the entire town. As a result, the high school banned valedictorians and instead opted to recognize all students in the top ten percent of the class. Subsequent anecdotes describe schools where parents call school offices to figure out the rank of their child–who is often separated from the next by only one hundredth of a decimal place–to legal fights with out-of-court monetary settlements.

Talbot also cites a book called “Lives of Promise: What Happens to High School Valedictorians.” The book finds that Valedictorians never become exceptionally successful adults because they pursue financially safe careers and pursue multiple academic interests. Exceptionally successful adults, on the other hand, develop single passions early on and often recall not liking formal education. This reminded me of the Terman study, which tracked child geniuses throughout their lifetime. These “Termanites” were at best, above average in their adult careers while 2 children who were rejected from the study for having low IQs went on to win Nobel prizes.

While I was very interested on this 2005 take of high school pressure, I think the article fell short in some areas. Namely, there was a mention of general stress, but not that of the mental illness that develops in these settings. The article mentions “Stressed Out Students” a Bay Area focused program “pledged to make students and their parents less driven.” However, this wording neglects the heart of the issue–being driven is not the issue, but mental illness that constant internal and external pressure creates. I can say with confidence that Bay Area schools have only gotten worse with this regard and are now notorious hubs for suicide, eating disorders, anxiety, and depression. I wonder if Talbot’s limited view was a product of the time (since I feel like mental illness in high pressure academic systems is a table topic now) or of her limited background in the actual experience.