My Capstone Portfolio (!!)

Well, the days keep counting down toward graduation and now it is time to share my capstone project and portfolio.

The project I chose allowed me to explore to two different but important things to me. One silly and one serious. Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a vendetta? That’s not the right word but I’ve had something against sea lions. I don’t trust ’em and I don’t get ’em. So for my project, I wrote and illustrated an adult children’s book about this mistrust of sea lions. But the more I worked on it and thought about it, I saw reflections to today’s political/Islamophobic climate. The things I have against sea lions are the same things used against Muslim immigrants. Through satire, my project hopes to show that the general fear and mistrust of an entire religion is just as silly and probably heinous as my general fear and mistrust of an entire species. But come on, do you trust that face?

Image result for sea lion suspicious

 

My portfolio includes this project as well as a short research paper which details my sources and contextualizes the project. My portfolio also includes my Writer’s Evolution essay and a link to an online magazine I write for. Overall, my portfolio is almost there. I’m still working on formatting my Writer’s Evolution essay and the images and videos included in my research paper. And I still need to upload my capstone project.

After those final steps, I’m done! Take a look and let me know what you think, I’d love to hear any and all suggestions.

Here’s the link again: https://shanvail.wixsite.com/c2017

Seeing Rebecca Solnit

 

On Monday, Amanda and I went to see Rebecca Solnit’s talk, titled “Hope and Emergency.” As some of you may remember, we watched a video of Solnit speak at the beginning of the semester. That was well before my project had any direction, so I thought it would be interesting to hear her again now that I my project is taking shape. I was a little nervous to see her speak because I was worried that her calm demeanor would not make for an interesting event. But this was not my experience.

Seeing Solnit speak in person was very different than watching her on my computer. When I watched her on video, I thought she was hard to follow and her voice seemed to drag on. What she was saying was interesting, but it was difficult for me to follow along. But seeing her in person was much easier for me to understand. Sure, maybe I was just able to focus better because she was standing in front of me and there weren’t internet and other computer distractions. I’m not sure what it was, but I felt I understood her speech and train of thought much better in person.

That being said, there was one point that she made that has stayed with me since Monday. Among other topics, she spent a good amount of time talking about Standing Rock and the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. This is something I have been following for months now and I was happy that she brought it up given the recent progression in its construction. Personally, I’m with the protesters. And so is Solnit. I couldn’t tell where she was going with her points besides describing the current situation and current examples of activism.

Instead of calling for more action or a desperate hopeful cry for something extraordinary, Solnit admitted that it looks like the pipeline will be built. I hadn’t heard anyone who is against the pipeline say that before. I thought it was strange that she would be admitting defeat, but then she continued and I realized she wasn’t. She said that although this pipeline would likely be built, more pipelines probably wouldn’t. The delays caused by protesters cost billions, making future construction a less lucrative investment. Just because this one couldn’t be stopped doesn’t mean the protests and activism was a failure. Even though the goal was not technically reached, the movement was still a success.

I thought this was an incredible piece of advice that can be applied to almost anything. For the capstone project, for other classwork, for career goals and for personal goals. Maybe my capstone won’t end up exactly as I intended, but that doesn’t make it a failure. Something is bound to go wrong and I will have to make changes in my plans. As these challenges come up, I will remember Solnit’s words of wisdom and keep working.

 

I’m Here

Hi Everyone!

I’m Shannon, a sad senior who is not ready to be in her last semester here at Michigan. But maybe I’ll be back. Here’s looking at you (grad school).

In my past three and a half years here, most of my writing has been research and/or academically focused. However, I have thrown in some creative writing and photography classes which offered totally new perspectives on this writing thing that I’ve been doing since grade school.

As an art history major, most if not all of my classes are reading and writing based and I’ve probably written more papers than I can remember. Like most of you, I’ve written research papers and argumentative papers and a number of other types of essays until my fingers cramped. One new type that was introduced to me through my major is visual analysis, where I have to write exactly what I see. This may sound pretty self-explanatory and simple but it’s been some of the most challenging essays I have ever taken on. But now, this is the writing that I know best and the community where I have the most experience. Because it is so familiar, I like the structure and the rules I have grown with. But I think I will be in an ongoing battle with Chicago citations until my dying day.

In my more creative classes and communities, I was initially very frightened by all of the freedom and lack of rules. It was definitely and adjustment to write poetry and fiction, but ultimately I’m glad I put myself through those stressful times. It brought me back to my earliest writing days where my sister and I would write and illustrate stories for our parents. My language changed and I could be more expressive than I was used to. And in the photography course I took, there was almost no text/print writing. Photographs took the place of words and sentences as we composed a number of photo essays throughout the semester. This was a totally new experience for me and I gained a new appreciation for photo journalists and professional photographers. It is infinitely harder than it looks (or looked, to me) and now I consider photography as a kind of writing.

In the capstone, I hope to be able to use all of the things I have learned and all of the styles I have been able to practice. I’ve never been able to combine them all in one essay or project and I’m not entirely sure how that would work. But I’m excited to keep an open-mind and see where this class takes me!

ePortfolio Reflections

At the beginning of the semester I thought that the ePortfolio would be the easiest project of the course. I imagined myself uploading content with minimal formatting, all done in a day. I thought I could just drag in a few photos and upload a few documents and put my name on it and be done. But that was not the case at all.

This project was way more difficult than I expected, but not in a bad way. I struggled with design and layout and making the entire site cohesive despite the different content I put on the site. I felt like nothing was ever centered or looked exactly how I wanted. Most of that frustration was because of the differences depending on screen size. I didn’t know that was an issue until we started working on them in class. I probably spent half an hour in front of my lap top and a big desktop computer going make and forth by the millimeter trying to get the title of one page centered.

After doing all of that, I had to let go. I accepted that everything may not be centered, but it all the text boxes would be roughly how I wanted them to look. If I could, that is something I would keep working on but I think it would make me go cross-eyed. I also plan on working on my home page more. It opens on some recent information about me and a date and time it was updated. I am going to update that as it changes, although it hasn’t changed in a while. I have been too busy with the end of the semester and now finals to read or visit new places. I hope that changes over break and I can update my page soon.

Despite the little imperfections, I am happy with my ePortfolio. I think that it has a good balance of showing my personality and showing my work. I really like having a place to put all of my work that isn’t my documents folder. It is as personal or professional as I want to make it, and now that I have spent a good amount of time working with Wix, I feel like I could change that easily. If I wanted to make it more professional I could easily make those adjustments, and the same with making it more personal. Going forward, I want to add an internships tab where I include posts and pictures from internships past and present. This is taking it in a more professional direction but it is still personal depending on how I write the posts and what pictures I include.

http://shanvail.wix.com/miwportfolio

Advice

I can’t believe it’s time for me to write this post, I feel like I was just searching through this blog for past advice posts. So I guess that is where my advice starts, enjoy your time in the course because it will go (too) quickly. You will be challenged to write in ways you haven’t written before and challenged to look at writing as a whole in new ways. It may seem daunting or too large of a concept to grasp at times, but that’s okay. It’s okay to feel like you’re stuck under something enormous, you will make it out. Let yourself look deeper and don’t worry if you don’t understand right away. There is rarely a wrong answer, it just depends on where you personally want to go.

My next piece of advice is to challenge yourself. The course will inherently challenge you, but take it one step further. Try a new style or a new genre that you haven’t tried before, playing it safe won’t help you grow as a writer as much as trying something new. And this is the class to take those risks. It is not a high stakes environment, so why not take a chance? You will learn something no matter what the end result is.

My last piece of advice is to be open to help. I went into the class hating sharing my writing and revising all of my papers myself. But I have learned how valuable feedback really is. Even if you don’t agree with some of the comments you get back, there is always value in what others think. It can show how clear your message comes across, it can show you places to expand or places to cut down, it can show you a whole new way to frame your piece. No matter what, you will learn something about your paper from feedback.

So congratulations on beginning your journey through the Minor in Writing. You are already a strong and driven writer, you are here. There is only room to grow and you definitely will. Keep writing and good luck!

Why Do I Write?

This week I’m definitely thinking about the Why I Write project the most. Most evident, I’m thinking about why I write. But I’m also thinking about the position the assignment has put me in, in general.

Not only do I have to consider why I write, I have to write about it. My ideas about the purpose of my writing are being formed and organized in writing. I find myself in a weird, almost self-aware, position where I’m using writing to figure out why I write in the first place. It’s a question I didn’t really think about until we read the pieces by Orwell and Didion. They both discussed why they write, which seemed to me to be rational and for a good purpose. They are both respected and accomplished writers, so it makes sense to me why they would explain what they think their purpose is. It feels strange for me to explain why I write in their company.

And now, this blog post prompt is asking me to write about thinking about writing about why I write. I feel like I’m in a cyclic motion of thinking and writing, then thinking about why I’m writing and writing about what I’m thinking. It’s a complex situation that all feeds into itself, fueling a hyper conscious project. I can’t think of another situation that would be like this. I can’t create a math problem about thinking about math. I suppose I could draw or paint a piece about drawing or painting, but I don’t think it would be the same. I don’t think it would be possible to visually represent the levels of thought/writing/writing about thought/thought about writing, that exists in this project and this post. It would be too complicated to visually represent, and would probably require something written to explain it.

I think that I’m enjoying the position I’m in; it’s forcing me to think and consider things on a deeper level than I even have before. But at the same time it’s a little frustrating. It’s difficult to start writing about why I write when I don’t really know how to explain it. I don’t even know if I’m explaining it well now. I’m writing to figure out my writing. This project has kind of taken on a life of its own. Is it determining itself? Is it influencing me more than I;m influencing it? Am I thinking about it way too much? Probably a combination of all of the above, and some things I can’t even imagine.

Looking Back

By this point, this far into the semester, my idea of writing has changed a lot since the beginning. My expectations for the class were that I would be writing everyday, cranking out papers and heavy revisions. Instead, we have been looking at writing in a broader sense than I had thought of before. Some of my expectations are being fulfilled and I’m not too upset about the ones that aren’t.

One of my biggest goals for this class was to work on my tendency toward repetition in my writing. It is one of my biggest problems, so I really thought this class would help me be more direct and effective so I wouldn’t feel the need to repeat myself. I think that working on the same/similar projects all semester has definitely helped with that. Being forced to take time to revise the same thing has shown me how much more effective my writing can be if I make that effort. Revising the repurposing project, and now the remediation project is getting me into the habit of doing the same thing with all of my writing.

Although I don’t always write every day for this class, with my broadened definition of writing, I do some type of writing every day. Mostly for other classes, which include more academic writing or note taking, but also some creative writing. I’ve been working on my imagery and figurative language in another class, and I think that is somewhat transferring into all of my writing. The papers I mostly write are for my art history major, so the increased imagery is serving that well. Trying to describe works of art in writing is one of the most difficult things I have to do, I rarely feel like I do it justice. But writing figuratively in another class is helping me better do that.

I expected to do a significant amount of writing in this class, which I don’t think we have. But the things we do in this class I can use in my more writing intensive classes. I feel like I’m building skills and habits that benefit me as a holistic writer, not just benefitting me in this class.

Why I Write

Looking back at my last two and a half years of college, and more generally all of my life, I am realizing I technically have always been a writer. When I was in elementary school I would write and illustrate my own books about whatever caught my attention that week. After I finished each one, I thought they were all masterpieces, I would give them to my teacher and beg them to laminate it for me. I don’t know why but they would always do it, but now I am extremely thankful that they allowed me to explore/rewarded my creativity.

Then in high school I jumped at the opportunity to do a similar thing with a younger student. It was part of an elective class, a class which all of the older kids said not to take but everyone took anyway. We would go back to the elementary school and work with a first grade class and help them create their own books. I was matched with Claire because we both had blonde hair and loved sports and dogs (I think). She told me what she wanted her book to be about and I created it for her. Her favorite game was CandyLand, so I wrote a story about her playing a game with her family. I illustrated the pages, laminated them and met with her one last time to share our publication. Seeing her enjoy a book she made brought me back to my years in elementary school when I began to enjoy the same thing she was enjoying in that moment. I also took every English AP course that my school offered while everyone else was taking calculus or physics. I always have preferred to write a paper than take a chemistry exam.

In the sense that I have been a ‘writer’ since a young age, I can relate to Orwell’s piece. My motivations and inspirations were different; mine were not out of loneliness or isolation. My subjects were also different, I tended to write about animals or my family while Orwell took on bigger issues. However, I don’t connect with everything he says. I don’t agree with his claim that every book is a failure. It seems strange that he would think that as a successful author. I can understand that his opinions of his writing changed, I change my opinions on my own too, but I never thought that a popular, successful writer would be so honest and open about that, clearly not worried that it would affect future readers. If that is what he thought, he was right. People still read his books, people still love his writing and style despite his somewhat negative opinions. I also think it’s interesting that he had that mindset when he was only a few years from writing 1984. I have always liked Orwell as an author and like the books of his that I have read, but I am currently unsure if this piece made me like him more or less.

Trying out Photoshop

I’ve decided to move forward with making cartoons. Now there are a few problems with this: I can’t draw very well, I have never made cartoons before, I’m not particularly clever. To try and help solve the first problem I listed, I tried using Photoshop.

I have been using Photoshop since high school, so going into this little experiment I was fairly confident. I like to think I’m pretty good at making crazy photos, maybe not realistic ones but photoshopped pictures nonetheless (some examples).

My dog's head on the body of a man
My dog’s head on the body of a man

But this is the only type of photoshop experience I had, I didn’t know anything about creating entirely original images. At first I tried to start completely blank and use the tools available on Photoshop. This did not work. I couldn’t get the right look I wanted for my cartoons.

 

Next I decided to find generic images from the internet and modify them with my own captions or combine a few images to get the scene I wanted. This did not go that well either. Unless I found an image that was the exact setting I wanted and all I had to add was a caption, the images I created did not look good. It was difficult finding images online that were in a similar enough style that when I put them together, they looked like a cohesive image. Adding captions was the easiest part, although I didn’t put as much thought into them as I did trying to meld two or more images.

My dad on Air Force 1 with Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich
My dad on Air Force 1 with Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich

Next I decided to find generic images from the internet and modify them with my own captions or combine a few images to get the scene I wanted. This did not go that well either. Unless I found an image that was the exact setting I wanted and all I had to add was a caption, the images I created did not look good. It was difficult finding images online that were in a similar enough style that when I put them together, they looked like a cohesive image. Adding captions was the easiest part, although I didn’t put as much thought into them as I did trying to meld two or more images.

Going forward, I think I have two options. I can dedicate more time to looking for images that already

The future of the Buffalo Sabres, probably
The future of the Buffalo Sabres, probably

exist and using Photoshop to combines images and captions. I could do this, but it would take a lot of time and research. More likely, I will have to draw my own images then upload them to Photoshop to add captions. This will take time too, but this way I can be sure that the specific setting I want can be represented. Either way I have a lot of work ahead of me. Either way I will use Photoshop in some way. I found the font options very easy to use, so I m happy I found something I can use in my project.

Thoughts on Remediation

I am between a few ideas for my remediation project. Since my argument in my repurposing argument was fairly political, one of the ideas is to make a series of political cartoons. If I went forward with that idea, I’d run into a few problems. The first problem is I can’t draw very well. I would need to take a lot of time on the drawings or ask a more creative friend to help me out. Another problem would be how many cartoons to make for the project. I think the text of the cartoons would need to be concise to be effective, so I would need to do multiple cartoons to create an overall effective argument. As for a model for this option, I really enjoy The Far Side cartoons. They are simple and punchy and I loved reading them when I was younger. The Far Side

Another idea I had is to do a video. I could take this in a few directions. I could make a video from the point of view of the victim of an unfair dress code, making a personal call to action. Or I could interview multiple people and get their opinions on the effects of dress codes. Both of those sound kind of boring to me, but could be effective. I was also thinking of taking a lighter approach, making a video where I meet with people, read them stories of real or fake conversations between school administrations and dress code violators, then have the interviewee guess if it was real or fake. This would try and make some of the real reasons given by administrations laughable, showing how ridiculous they are. The trouble I have with this idea is that I’m not sure if that would detract from the importance of my argument. I would have to be careful that it makes enough fun of the reasons so that the reasons seem ridiculous, but not so much that the issue isn’t taken seriously. I don’t have a model for this idea because there are so many directions I could go.

Overall, I definitely have a lot to consider. I need to evaluate my argument again to decide the best direction to take it next. I am going to need some creative help regardless of what medium I choose, as I don’t know how to make either.