Challenge Journal 3: Third Time’s the Charm?

This blog post has gone through A LOT of iterations. I drafted full posts about being uninspired to write or work on my project, and then about the ways in which my full-class workshop affected by outlook on my project. Yet, nothing got quite to the finished stage, and by the time I went back to hit “publish,” both of those writing problems didn’t seem to quite resonate with me anymore. As Julie mentioned in class the other day, she purposefully structured this course so that we would feel stressed out and overwhelmed NOW, rather than two or three weeks from now. I think this approach has clearly worked on me, as this stressed-out-overwhelmed feeling is making me realize I have a new, completely different writing problem every time I come onto this blog to write about the last one.

So, my third attempt at this blog post will be the charm, hopefully?

I think a lot of the roadblocks I’ve come across lately and attempted to write about can be boiled down to an insecurity about genre. I am having trouble summoning up the courage to write because I am uncertain of my skill in the genre of playwriting; it’s hard to picture how to proceed when I feel like I don’t really know what I’m doing.Similarly, I think the critiques I received during workshop hit me especially hard because I felt like my draft didn’t “show off” my writing skill in the same way that prose might. I often rely on colorful descriptions to tell my stories, and with a dialogue-only play there isn’t much room for such writing. I got a lot of–often conflicting–opinions from my classmates on whether each individual line of dialogue sounded “natural” to them. I think I might have had an easier time wading through these differing ideas to find the ones that are most helpful to me if I felt like I had a better understanding of the genre itself, and how to write within it. I realize that my creating this project for myself, I set myself the task of exploring a new genre rather than sticking to what I felt confident in, so this “problem” is largely of my own creation.

So, then, what do I do? Where do I go from here? (Your advice here is welcome, much appreciated, and somewhat needed. :))

In an attempt to answer this question for myself, I’ve tired to look back at other times I’ve written outside of my signature genre of narrative nonfiction. Unfortunately, I can’t find very many examples of such working outside of my own box (hence my feelings like I needed to do so for this project). I’ve written pretty much exclusively narrative nonfiction in college (other than the obvious academic essay for classes).

The closest thing I can find–and, handily, it’s fairly related–is this: in High School I wrote a personal narrative essay entitled Chenille to serve as my Common App essay. Fairly straight down the middle of my usual move genre-wise, I know, BUT: Freshman year of college, I performed this essay as a monologue in a show called the Illness Narratives with the RC Players. So, as it turns out, I have written a dramatic piece before! Even though it started out as a regular nonfiction essay, it did end up fitting well on a stage. Maybe I’m not completely in the dark here, then. I only have to figure out how to write for the stage first, rather than going through the essay genre on the way to the dramatic genre.

*Cue me sitting here, wracking my brain to figure out how to do that, and do that NOW*

Wait… maybe that’s my problem…!? Maybe trying to force myself to START from a perfectly formatted dramatic genre is what’s getting me stuck. Why start from what you don’t know? Why not begin from what you know and then head towards what you don’t slowly, step by step? Maybe I need to make a cue from my process for Chenille, and try to tell the story I want to tell in a way that I feel comfortable and confident telling it in, and THEN focus on adapting that story for the stage. I’ve avoided this approach throughout this Capstone process because it seems awfully roundabout and time-consuming, but I bet even such an indirect approach would be more productive than sitting here twiddling my thumbs and getting more and more stressed out, waiting to suddenly understand everything about playwriting so that I can pop out the perfect play all in one piece.

Okay, then. Here goes: I’m gonna try to start from what I know then work away from it once I feel narratively solid. (Will this work? I don’t know… Any other ideas?)

Wish me luck!   

Challenge Journal 4: Missed opportunity?

My biggest missed opportunity as a result of a lack of time and experience probably was most of my pieces I wrote for the sports and opinion sections in the Michigan Daily. One stands out to me the most — it was a feature article on a track runner that was in law school and almost made the NFL who just broke a Michigan track record: https://www.michigandaily.com/sports/meet-john-spooney-michigans-davinci

I wrote this my freshman year and I think it was good at the time but looking back on it now, there was a lot more reporting, time, and effort I could have put into this like I could’ve done so much better with this lede:

“He was a two-sport athlete at Brown, but that time has long since passed.

Now he is an aspiring medical school student. He was once good enough for a tryout with the Baltimore Ravens. He has just run the fourth-fastest 60-meter time in school history in his first race as a Wolverine. And he has come a long way from a childhood near Jacksonville, Florida.

Meet John Spooney, the renaissance man.”

I think a lot of work I did for the Daily wasn’t as good as I think it could have been due to a lack of time, desire to make it exceptional, and honestly, running out of ideas. It helps a lot in my writing not to have a specific writing block each day or deadlines in which I need to get things done. Then it feels monotonous and forceful, though it is necessary. I have found that as I have gotten older that I do most of my writing by thinking inadvertently when engaging with people and art in the world. I’ll then write down some snippets and let everything come together in a free-flowing way. It’s weird but I write a lot more when I’m given time to think about it and let the words kick into overdrive. It’s also very helpful to not have any expectations of topic, form, or style, at least initially. Right now in doing poetry, I can talk about whatever I want in this method that feels like freedom. With the Daily, I chose to stay with one sport which constrained what I was able to talk about. And in writing columns, I felt that I had to write a certain way that I had to free the world of its evils and be an authority. It was like I was putting on a persona that wasn’t really me. It was awkward and concrete. I wish that I would’ve been a better writer in those moments but I need to understand that doing this messy and what I deem now as unsatisfactory writing got me to where I am today. And I’ll look back on what I’m writing now in a couple years and probably hate it. I’m trying to approach writing as “whatever I’m feeling at the moment.” Soon I’ll change the topic of what I’m writing about now but I’m not sure when. Though sometimes not having a structure or a change of pace can keep me in the same ruts. And I’m running the risk of my current writing not making sense to the audience or even having the writing to be plain bad. I must write but also accept structure and criticism. I wish I would have sought that out more with the Daily as my displeasure with my work was my own fault. Hindsight is 20/20.

Organzing an Essay (Website??)

So I am honestly very excited for the possibilities that arise from using a website as the final container for my project. I really am. Really.

trump, believe, lie
I’m just not used to organizing my life this way. And when I say “my life” I mean my writing (feel free to laugh tragically right along with me).

So my project started as a way to make a “book” that would have originally just been for my eyes to revisit the research from my final architecture studio design project, into something actively accessible by the populations for which I’m theoretically trying to design. But what is a website if not one of the most accessible platforms? Why am I have an issue?

I’ll tell ya, it seemed good on paper to combine the efforts of my courses like this, but there is a bit of difficulty. Mostly in my own headspace categorizing. My professor in my studio course is all for the website instead of a book because the argument of access makes sense. My difficulty is organizing.

In trying to develop the thesis writing I’ve done in my architecture course into something more for capstone, I’ve been working in the mode of essay organizing. It help keeps me focused on what I need to be saying, how to transition between topics, and what I’m not doing. But websites are different, right? I don’t think that paragraph transitions between topics need to matter as much when the space between them becomes an “tab” which doesn’t even need to be accessed in any particular order. We have seen examples in class that have been very ordered, somehow, but I find myself wanting to branch out from the linear essay format and explore how to make it more of a web.

bill murrary, pun, facepalm
#cantstopwontstop making puns

How can I start? It feels like I might definitely be overcomplicating this, right? Because removing transitions (my heart just stopped a bit) or at least lessening their importance should make organizing easier, right? Storyboarding for the website was really helpful to figure out what I thought I needed, but I think I could’ve gotten even more specific. I am a sucker for well-developed plans. What I did was try to plan out, via tabs. But now that we’re work shopping project samples, I’m finding that the organization of my writing is not particularly reflective of that storyboard. Is that a personal problem? Have I just been making poor decisions? And yet, maybe I’m overlooking how website have their own style of transitions between tabs?

Any and all of these could be the truth.

I wonder if this is an issue that the MiW godcreators thought of when making a website be a requirement of the final product. The issue of form-finding. And comfort zones. I think I’m losing my train of thought.

Challenge Journal 3: Finding the Balance Between Too Much and Not Enough

I’m a long-winded writer. I like to write poems and stories and books that are really long. It feels a lot less constraining to me and when I write longer pieces I assume it makes for better content. When I do this, however, I run the risk of losing the reader’s attention as their mind gets bored or wonders when the story will end. I hope that won’t happen but it is good to remember that is completely possible. On the flip side, it’s hard for me to write short pieces. I feel like there isn’t enough room for the words to be powerful. It’s difficult to be my own editor. I’ve been told at times in journalism and novel writing that my pieces are too long. But when I cut them down, it feels like I’m diminishing the story. Writing shorter poems has been a good exercise in making each word count as much as possible. To leave the reader coming back for more. I’ve been writing more short poetry for this project and for some competitions because most places won’t publish 5-10 page poems like I have. It has been weird to be forced into writing differently but there is so much good in switching length up.

Here’s my shortest poem from my collection that I like:

the catalyst of guilt

Future acceptance of clauses and destroyed stereotypes
are ruined by people asking for apologies
Just like you (I’m speaking to a specific) wanted to be an individual
so are the white people in the front row
You can be angry, but don’t feel sorry for yourself
because, if you’ve observed like me
you will see that reparations don’t resolve
out of pity

There needs to be variation in style and length to keep the reader’s attention and interest. It’s difficult though because sometimes readers will ask what something means. Is that the point or should something be longer to explain what is happening? With my project this semester, there will also be some annotations on the site explaining the work like footnotes. Recently I have deleted some at the smart request of my classmates, giving the reader some credit and room to figure things out on their own. I just don’t know what others know, so sometimes I will lose the reader in some references or style and that is perfectly fine!

Image result for long writing gif

Challenge Journal 2; Or, Flick Will Never Not Suck At Titles

I wrote my first challenge journal about not knowing how to start my pieces. I stand by that as being the place I struggle the most. I am so deep in that mud right now it’s not even funny. I’m still incredibly lost but I have some direction and I think that more than anything else I’m scared.

I had absolutely no clue what I was going to do for my capstone, and after invading Julie’s office and yelling about a whole bunch of nonsense for 45 minutes, she managed to shape my thoughts into a capstone project idea (thanks, Julie!). Okay, cool, so we have an idea. Now what?

Research!

In this instance, research is fun. I’ve got to dig deep into the depths of David Sedaris’s life and read more of his work. I’ve got to read how other writers talk about their obsessions and passions, including reading about this dude’s utterly violent fascination with the White Stripes. He bought an apartment and the entire colour scheme was red, white, and black…ok crazybones…

Anyway, I’ve read and I’ve searched and I’ve formulated ideas and potential topics and blah blah blah. But I haven’t written anything. I can’t. Well, that’s a lame excuse and it’s also probably not true. I could. I’m scared. I have models of effective ways that authors have written about themselves and other people, how they navigate personal reflection with analysis of somebody else. It’s not that I don’t want to copy them, it’s that maybe I don’t like that type of structure. Which is bizarre because I love having things spelled out for me, it means I don’t really have to think as much (yeah, that sounds bad).

But maybe the thing is really that I want to make this piece my own and have the freedom to make it exactly how I want it. That actually isn’t a maybe, that’s exactly what I want. But I’m scared probably because maybe I don’t know exactly what I want and what if what I want turns out to be complete trash?

I’m not going to lie I had no idea where this post was going when I started and I feel like I unintentionally opened and deep, internal can of worms. I’m scaring myself. Constantly fearing the unknown. Goddamn it, Flick.

help?????????????

Guilt & Truth; I can’t separate you two.

I’m writing about the process my family underwent in dealing with my grandma’s terminal cancer diagnosis. My project is going to end up with a policy-change orientation, advocating for the legalization (or at least decriminalization) of physician-assisted suicide for patients with no other options, but will mostly take the form of a personal essay from my perspective as a seven-year-old. My worries with this are twofold: I’m not sure how many of the “memories” that I have of this period are real and I don’t want to whore out my grandmother in some heartless politically motivated sob story.

Naturally this was an unpleasant time during which I and my family did unpleasant things, but I’m running into an issue concerning a fear of gossip. I feel out of place revealing the lowest of the lows which my family (my mother in particular) reached. I feel like I’m instrumentalizing something which should be kept private. My fear keeps taking the form of the following question:

“WHAT IF MY FAMILY READS THIS SHIT?”

Would they approve of my decision not only to share the ugly details of my grandmother’s slow and miserable death, but also to use that as a means to push an agenda? I feel dirty just using the word agenda.

This is a somewhat familiar issue. Last year I took a 325 personal essay class aiming to use it as a written therapy session. I think every essay (with the exception of one) I wrote was about a spectacularly failed relationship. (The other one was about a house where drugs were sold.) I never felt nearly as uncomfortable airing my dirty laundry in those essays as I do with this one. Maybe it was because I was entirely without a chance of redemption with the women whom I wrote about. I knew they would never read what I wrote anyway. I can’t quite get over that hump this time. How do I do what I want to do? At the very least, how can I rationalize exploiting the death of a person I loved?

Fuck.

 

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 2: How Do I Write Male Voices?

For my capstone project, I’m writing a play, and I finally, finally, FINALLY just wrote something akin to a solid first draft of a scene.

It’s been really hard for me to get started on the actual writing process, largely because my play covers a semi-controversial topic–allyship–that I am not an expert on, and I am therefore terrified of writing the wrong thing or misrepresenting someone’s perspective or experience. I’ve thusly been spending most of my time reading and researching trying to find out everything I can, so that I don’t misstep in my writing, which has lead to a lack of actually putting pen to paper, or hand to keyboard, as it were. I’ve also found it difficult to get started as I’m not historically big on writing dialogue, a factor which maybe makes my decision to write a play seem questionable, and one which I am choosing to ignore.

But, FINALLY, I had an idea; inspiration struck! Something happened in my life, and instead of texting my friend about it, I wrote it down into my “Brain Dump” document for my play instead, and it slowly grew into a monologue for my female character, Riley, and then, as I kept brain dumping, a full scene between both her and my other character, Jonah. Thus, I’ve done it! I’ve written a loose-ish outline of a conversation that will hopefully become the beginning of a real actual play! Huzzah!

Not only is this my first dramatic scene ever, it’s also the first time I’ve written dialogue for a male character in a long while. I didn’t quite realize this discrepancy of genders in my dialogue until I got into writing just now, and found it WAY more difficult to find things for Jonah to say than Riley. Riley’s words flowed right out of me, but Jonah’s voice seemed more forced, more effortful, like squeezing almost-dried out toothpaste out of the tube. You know you need a certain amount of paste to brush your teeth (or words to represent this character fully in your play) and you know that if you squeeze hard enough for long enough you will eventually get enough out to fill the bristles, but it’s by no means easy. This clear difference in ease of writing for my two characters made me look back and think, when was the last time I successfully wrote for a male character?

My answer: I can’t find an example of it. One of the reasons I’ve taken on this project is that all my writing in college has been from my own perspective, and I want to expand my focus and my voice. Even when I do include other characters than myself in my essays, I rarely let them speak. Take as an example this excerpt from my latest essay Read Me, which I wrote for John Rubadeau’s English 425 class:

I’m on a first date, curled up cross-legged on the narrow booth of Ashley’s Bar. My freshly-minted, horizontal driver’s license smiles at his I.D. lying next to it in the middle of the table. We’ve just compared them, pressing the two cards close together to see whether Maryland’s crab or Michigan’s bridge better coordinates with the plastic-y, DMV-like vibe. His face looks younger in his picture; seventeen-year-old Matt isn’t quite the same as the man who sits across from me now, lofting witticisms and whimsy into the space between us. My beer grows warmer in my hands—I keep forgetting to stop talking in order to take a sip from it.

As the conversation ping-pongs easily back and forth between us, I find myself trying to find the words to tell him the secret stories he may find written on my body later. I’m starting to trust him in this dim, warmly lit bar. I want him to read me and know me, to understand the context my body gives me. But I’m afraid that as the night progresses—when we’re out from under the softening glow of Ashley’s neon sign—he won’t like what he sees.  I try to slip little hints into the conversation like tiny red warning signs:

“Yeah, I guess I was kinda having a rough time physically at the end of high school—What? Yeah, I mean like I was sick. But coming here just sort of snapped me out of it, ya know?”

I’m not making much sense, only stringing halfway hidden details together into under-baked sentiments, but I don’t know how to say what I mean: Something happened to me that stretched my skin so much it tore. I can’t explain to you how it felt or exactly what happened, but look—you can see it on me.

“No, no—I’m fine now! I ran that half marathon and everything—yeah, I’m good. It’s—it’s all good.”

I sit there, starting to squirm and struggling to tell him the things that have already been written on me. This night is reinforcing what I already almost knew: my scars tell about a time that is too inextricably integrated into my cells to transcribe into words.

Eventually, at a loss and too worried that he won’t take the time to read the truth on my body, I come right out and say it:

“I have a mitochondrial disorder.”

There’s a beat of silence, and I finally take a sip of my beer. It’s too sweet; I try not to contort my face as I swallow. He squints at me, gently, and I know he doesn’t quite understand—it’s an unfamiliar word, and its clunkiness distracts from the truth of it. I should’ve let my body speak for me.

Read me, I think. Look at me. See my story written on my body. Don’t make me tell you the truths that are already there, if you only look hard enough.

That’s 100% of the content I wrote about Matt in the whole piece. I talk about how easy I found it to talk to him, how easily our conversation flowed, and yet I never once in the whole essay let him speak. And the problem isn’t just men: I do let a couple female characters in the same essay speak, but they get three words each: “Hey, what’s that?” and “Yeah—one sec,” respectively. I’ve chosen to write a genre that relies almost exclusively on letting other people speak, on writing their voices, and yet here I am, struggling to do just that.

So, MiW peers, what do I do? How do I write men? I’m not sure I need help writing for Riley, because even though I have to build her character completely out of dialogue, I’ve given her a voice that is sort of like a heightened, stylized version of my own, and, as you can see above, I don’t struggle to write my own voice as dialogue, just everyone else’s (lololol). In an attempt to find a way into his character, I’ve set up a couple of informal interviews with guys who are similar to Jonah so I can observe the way they speak and learn about their stories and perspectives to hopefully inspire him, but I’m sure I’m going to need even more help. So, any advice on how to create other fictional yet accurate voices would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

I’m definitely stuck here, but I’m trying not to panic because, at the very least, I’ve finally written something like a scene. And Jonah did speak in it, so at least I’ve got something…?

Challenge Blog Four: Genre

Genre has been a huge focal point for our in-class workshops and it was one of the major concerns I had going into my Capstone project. When I initially had the idea for a music website, I was playing around with too many ideas. It was going to be an anti-gossip column, it was going to be Skimm-like news site about the music industry, and it was also supposed to incorporate album reviews. I had tons of exciting concepts, because I love music and have interned in the industry for two years. But I had to let that go somehow. Admittedly, it was great at first to have a plethora of options. However, I knew that my project would lack quality if it was bogged down by quantity.

writing-meme

There have been times in the past when I started too broad with a writing assignment. One instance that comes to mind is my first semester of freshman year, when I had to write a comparative literature paper using Maya Angelou’s work. I was far too overzealous with my thesis and ended up making a wild claim by the end of the paper about female writers’ representation in America. I used several outside sources that I did not need and it was utter chaos. It’s one of those papers that was a mess from the start and I tried to claim more than I needed to in the five pages I had.

That experience gives me pause now, because I can remember to collect my thoughts and narrow my focus. I was helpful to look back on an assignment like that one and use it as motivation to choose one thing for this Capstone. Now, I have settled on doing a digestible news site for music technology. I most definitely want to take stab at a longer op-ed piece, but it will remain in line with the shorter articles. It will be informative and up-to-date. That is my goal.

Challenge Journal #3: The (sometimes maddening) research process

I know this sounds incredibly nerdy, but I’m actually looking forward to the research portion of my capstone project. The thing is, I’m not sure how I’ll include my findings (especially the genre-specific ones) into my story naturally since my project will be written in a creative non-fiction form. However, I hope the approach to incorporate this information will make itself clear as time progresses, and as I start to begin reading the books on my research list, but I still find myself worrying about it now. Trusting the process is difficult, isn’t it?

I suppose my fears about this originate from my memories writing middle and high school research papers…gosh, it was like pulling teeth—so painful! I didn’t necessarily mind the researching (when I enjoyed the topic), but there was something so mundane about inserting evidence here and there and recording the sources on the bibliography pages. There was one instance where I was writing about Stradivarius, and as much as I loved reading about violin history, I became bored so quickly. There were so many opinions from different authors and experts about why his violins sound amazing (some think it’s because of the varnish, fyi), and trying to sort through them to uncover the truth was grueling. I am happy to say that I don’t think it’ll be this way for the annotated bibliographies we will create for our projects, because our kind and encouraging teachers designed it to be more open-ended on purpose. 🙂

I have to say, I am so excited to see how all of our projects end up! This is such a fabulous opportunity to express ourselves in whatever writing format we choose with whatever we are passionate about—what a gift this is!

So, here’s a toast to the research process! May it never become mind-numbing 😉

^me researching for middle and high school papers…